Saturday, November 29, 2008
1. The Florida Gators were quarterbacked by Tim Tebow.
2. The Florida State Seminoles started Christian Ponder at QB, but eventually replaced him with Drew Weatherford.
The Gators eviscerated Florida State with almost contemptuous ease, dispatching the Seminoles on a dreary, rain-soaked day that left the field at Doak Campbell Stadium a morass. It didn't slow down Florida, which put up 502 yards on the Seminoles despite few contributions from Percy Harvin.
They didn't get much from Harvin because he twisted his ankle on a goal line play. ABC announcer Bob Griese practically wrote Harvin's postmortem before Percy was able to limp off the field, declaring him out for the SEC Championship Game and probably the bowl game. That seems premature to me. We don't know his status yet; suffice it to say losing Harvin would be a huge blow to UF's chances against Alabama.
Aside from the Harvin injury it was a lovely game in crummy weather. The Gators racked up 317 rushing yards on a theoretically stout FSU defense; Chris Rainey picked up 97 yards, Jeff Demps 89, Tim Tebow 80, Emmanuel Moody 40. That's balance we can believe in.
Tebow accounted for four touchdowns, three through on the air, one on the ground, but he only threw for 185 yards, probably not enough to make a dent in the Heisman race. He's got one more marquis game to impress voters; if Tebow wants to repeat as the Heisman winner, he'd be well advised to throw for about 300 yards and notch five or six touchdowns.
His favorite target today was tight end Aaron Hernandez, who caught four passes for 61 yards. Hernandez scorched FSU twice on shovel passes I saw coming from the second he went in motion, but which evidently caught the Seminoles completely by surprise. Hernandez has emerged as a viable third option behind Harvin and Louis Murphy, who reeled in another touchdown pass today. Even David Nelson caught two passes.
The game was never really in doubt. Florida scored on its first, third, fifth and sixth possessions and entered halftime with a 28-9 lead. Florida State's most effective weapons were kicker Graham Gano, who nailed all three of his field goal attempts but did his only extra point blocked by about three different Gators, and return man Michael Ray Garvin, who repeatedly gashed UF's coverage unit. Bizarrely, the Seminoles had great field position throughout the game, but never showed any ability to capitalize on their good fortune.
For his part Urban Meyer moved to 12-1 against UF's four big rivals: FSU, Georgia, Miami and Tennessee, and he's won those games by a combined score of 408-180.
Florida's last remaining challenge is abundantly clear: defeat the 12-0, number one-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game next Saturday. Do that and, barring some kind of SkyNet-esque computer revolution, the Gators will reach their second national championship game in three years. Expect a preview next week.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
It's tempting to compare the situation faced by this Florida team to the one surrounding the 2001 squad, Steve Spurrier's last. Both teams played bitter rivals for the last game of the regular season: the 2008 team will face Florida State and the 2001 club played Tennessee in a showdown pushed back from its normal early season date by the September 11 attacks. Both teams were two wins away from a berth in the national championship game. Prolific quarterbacks led both teams (Rex Grossman quarterbacked the 2001 unit) to repeated blowouts. And both teams had those otherwise great seasons ruined by heartbreaking losses to unranked SEC West opponents: Auburn was the early prototype for the 2008 Ole Miss team that haunts Meyer's dreams.
The 2001 team saw its national championship ambitions shattered by the Volunteers; many still argue that upset drove Spurrier to the NFL. As I said, it's tempting to worry about history repeating in 2008.
The one key difference between the two seasons, however, is that the 2001 Tennessee team was actually good. They would go on to lose to LSU in the SEC Championship Game, but the Volunteers came into The Swamp ranked fifth in the country and boasting a 9-1 record. Florida State, by contrast, is 8-3 in the mediocre ACC and doesn't even control its own destiny in the race for the conference championship game.
But it is worth acknowledging that this year's Florida State team is better than the clubs Meyer and the Gators whacked in 2005-07. The Seminoles rank 45th in the nation offensively, a hearty boost from their rankings the last couple years. The defense is revitalized too, if not to the level of those frightening mid-90's units that just kept producing first round defensive linemen and linebackers. The Seminoles rank fourth in the nation in sacks with 3.18 per game. A replay of UF's early season offensive line issues could prove disastrous for the Gators.
I expect the Seminoles to challenge UF's secondary (which, despite all its great work this season, has yet to fully earn my trust); Greg Carr, Preston Parker, Taiwan Easterling, Corey Surrency have all put up respectable numbers and are dangerous in their own ways. Parker is kind of an unemployed Lehman Brothers' analyst's Percy Harvin, and at 6'6, Carr presents serious match-up issues with UF's cornerbacks.
But the Seminoles still don't have a QB on the level of Tim Tebow, which would be fine, except they still don't have a QB on the level of Casey Claussen or Chris Rix. Christian Ponder was elevated to the starting position before the season began, beating out frequent punching bag Drew Weatherford, who frankly was too nice to a guy to deserve playing behind that offensive line four straight seasons. Ponder's a mobile guy and has picked up 390 yards on 106 carries, which is impressive considering the Seminoles are 59th in the nation at preventing sacks. But Ponder is also completing just 56.4 percent of his passes and has just 12 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
No, the Seminoles are going to try and make their hay running the ball. They rank 28th in the nation in rushing offense, and again, that's a massive improvement from the last several years. Antone Smith is finally living up to a portion of his high school hype, and back-up QB D'Vontrey Richardson has some nice numbers as a runner. The worrisome factor here is the status of Florida's defensive line. Freshman Matt Patchan is out with a knee injury and sophomore Lawrence Marsh is questionable due to a similar ailment. Patchan's loss is mainly a blow to depth, but Marsh is by far the best defensive tackle Florida has. If he's out, or even if he's playing at a fraction of his ability, the Seminoles might be able to find some holes in Florida's patchwork defensive line. That's the match-up to keep an eye on, I suspect.
On the other side, there's not much for Florida to change offensively. Considering FSU's ability to rush the passer and Florida's somewhat iffy passing game, I expect the Gators to again rely heavily on the rushing attack to move the ball. Percy Harvin played a huge role in both the 2006 and 2007 games, and there's every reason to expect he'll again be massive part of the offensive gameplan as a runner and a receiver. He'll be especially useful as a hot receiver when FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews dials up one of his blitz packages.
There is one x-factor (cliche alert!) I should mention. FSU's Graham Gano is evidently the Samuel L. Jackson of place kickers. Gano is 21 of 23 on field goals, perfect on anything less than 50 yards and five of seven on anything longer than 50 yards. Bizarre as it is to write this sentence, should the game come down to a field goal, Bobby Bowden has to feel pretty confident in his chances. (Florida's kicker, Jonathan Phillips, is perfect on his field goal attempts but gets used about as often as the condom in a Trekkie's wallet)
But I don't think it'll come down to a field goal. Doak Campbell Stadium is a tough place for the Gators to play, but they've pulled out the last two games they've played in Tallahassee. Florida State will fight ferociously in the early minutes and probably sack Tebow once or twice in the first quarter, but the talent disparity between the two teams is too great.
Monday, November 24, 2008
The Fighting Citrus Fruit repeatedly eviscerated UF's, whether the Gators played man-to-man or a particularly laughable zone. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Syracuse. Jonny Flynn is missing an "h" but not much else; he's a hell of a player. So is Paul Harris. Harris scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds; Flynn scored 18 on five of seven shooting. The rather beastly Arinze Onuaku scored 13 and picked up 12 rebounds. Florida had no answer for him; he absolutely abused the Gators inside.
UF also failed to contain Syracuse sharp-shooter Andy Rautins in the first half; he was five of nine from behind the arc, though he was silent as a mausoleum in the second half.
It was actually a sharp, fun, well-played game. Syracuse's biggest lead was 10 points and they didn't hold that for very long. But the Orange basically won the game when they were able to open up a seven or eight point lead in the second half. The Gators simply couldn't stop Syracuse on consecutive possessions. Mathematics is a cruel mistress; if you fall behind by a couple possessions and can't stop the other guy from scoring, it's pretty darn hard to win.
With 19:02 left in the game, Eric Devendorf hit a three-pointer to make the score 46-40. From that point on the Gators never pulled within three.
It wasn't a complete disaster. Nick Calathes was his usual well-rounded self, scoring 17 on better than 50 percent shooting, dishing seven assists and recording three steals. Freshman guard and mighty mite Erving Walker looked pretty good against some solid competition; he scored 13 points coming off the bench and knocked down three shots from beyond the arc.
The true revelation, however, was Alex Tyus, who scored 24 points on 11 of 14 shooting. It was, by a wide margin, the best game of his college career. A lot of those points came on relatively uncontested put-backs, but he also drained several mid-range jumpshots and showed impressive touch around the basket.
But even Tyus struggled defensively. He only picked up four rebounds and did nothing to discourage Onuaku or Harris in the paint. The Gators didn't prove that they could stop or even contain effective low-post scorers. That's going to be a problem all year.
With the loss, UF fell to 3-1. Tomorrow they'll face the loser of tonight's Kansas/Washington match-up in the consolation game of this little mini-tournament. Beating either one of those teams would keep the Kansas City excursion from being a complete waste. Banking a win against a relatively decent team like Washington or Kansas would be helpful come tournament time, especially considering the quality of the SEC.
(Programming note: I obviously don't plan on recapping every basketball game. There are too many and I don't get to watch most of them. Important, nationally televised games will warrant an entry)
Saturday, November 22, 2008
This is a difficult question. As Josh Marshall over TPM has pointed out, Clinton's a good Senator. She does good work in that body. Her voice would be of great use on issues like health care reform, issues on which she couldn't really weigh in if she was Secretary of State. There's no guarantee that her appointed replacement from New York would be anything but a non-entity.
A lot of the chattering has centered on a possible personality conflict between Obama and Clinton, or issues surrounding Bill's charitable foundation or any of a dozen other problems originating in the bruising primary fight between these two. I won't pretend those concerns are completely baseless, but I can't picture Clinton turning the State Department into a partisan camp or using the position to fight an insurgency against Obama. It's popular to caricature Clinton as some kind of devil beast out of Greek mythology, and too many Democrats joined the conservative fringe in that pastime during the primary. But this is human being, not the Whore of Babylon. And this is a serious woman who's going to have a serious job. If I expect her to use that position to undermine the President of the United States then I have to think that she is a truly awful human being with no regard for the well-being of her country. And I refuse to believe that.
No, my biggest concern is that I don't know whether she'll be very good at the job. That's not a question of talent or intelligence or toughness. She has all three of those in spades, and I guarantee you that in the back of his mind, Obama's thinking, "If she treats Putin like she treated me in Pennsylvania, he'll beg me to put a missile defense shield in Poland."
But there are a lot of smart, talented, tough people who wouldn't do this job very well. The Obama campaign took great pains to point out during the primary that Clinton's supposed foreign policy experience was rather unimpressive, and I don't think they were wrong. It's fair to ask whether she has enough experience with the kind of high stakes, high wire diplomacy the job requires. And if the answer is no, than this isn't the right place for her. Secretary of State is not the kind of job you hand out for political purposes. It's too important to give to anyone but an individual you feel is qualified for it.
Others have pointed out that Clinton's two largest areas of executive experience are the early-90's health care task force and her presidential campaign, both of which spun into the sea like they were off-screen plot twists in a MASH season finale. I won't belabor the point.
On the other hand, she is smart, tough and talented, and I has told people who asked me about my fondness for Obama, after the past eight years, I'm willing to take a leap of faith for talent. I'm not going to castigate Obama for this choice, assuming he makes it. I can see his rationale. But color me wary.
Friday, November 21, 2008
There is some sentimentality to tomorrow's turkey shoot, however. It's Senior Day at The Swamp, meaning several long-tenured Gators will be playing their last home games. This senior class isn't particularly large or overly talented; Urban Meyer's first recruiting class (and, to a much lesser extent, Ron Zook's last class) was a weak group.
There are a couple players worth mentioning. Cornelius Ingram was cruelly robbed of his senior year and a chance to improve his draft stock, so he should get a nice ovation from the faithful. Jonathan Phillips finally earned his scholarship this season after three years of errant garbage time PATs. Kestahn Moore has caught a lot of flak during his tenure with the Gators without uttering a word of complaint. Jim Tartt, Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins have all done yeoman's work on the offensive line; Tartt has played the last three seasons with a chronically painful shoulder. Tate Casey, a fifth year senior tight end, has happily embraced the role of blocker. Javier Estopinan has battled multiple knee injuries. And Louis Murphy is UF's second-most reliable receiver.
The only players on that list with any NFL prospects are Ingram and Murphy. CI might earn a late round draft choice as a long-term developmental prospect. Murphy, for his part, could push into the middle rounds with a few great showings in the 40-yard dash.
Far more interesting than the seniors are the three talented juniors who form the core of this potential championship team: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. All three have the opportunity to leave school early and enter the 2009 NFL draft.
The conventional wisdom says that Spikes has the easiest decision, but I am (slightly) less sanguine. Spikes is a wonderful college player, but I wonder how harshly the NFL scouts will treat his skillset. He's not terribly fast. He's not particularly slow, either, but speed isn't his strong suit; I can see him putting up a 4.69 in the dash and causing GMs to grimace and grumble. Nor is he so massive that you can overlook his relative lack of speed; at 6'3, 245, he's solidly built, but not a tank. And despite what Gary Danielson may think, Spikes doesn't have the size or pass rushing ability to make it as a defensive end in the college game. I think Spikes is a probable first rounder, and he'll almost certainly leave early, but I can imagine him making some of Mel Kiper's "stock falling" lists before the draft.
Most Florida fans have come to accept the idea that Harvin will leave. When a recruit as highly regarded as Percy signs a Letter of Intent, it's basically a three-year business agreement between the player and the coach. The player will lend the coach his top-flight talent, help propel him to a championship and a new contract. The coach will give the player world-class medical care and training and provide him with national exposure. Well, Harvin played a big role on the 2006 national championship team, is a big part of this team and he got Meyer that new contract. The terms of their agreement are about to expire.
Harvin has a few dynamics working against him. He doesn't have great size. He has a worryingly extensive injury history. Florida wide receivers have struggled in the NFL since Cris Collinsworth joined the league.
None of that is going to matter. Harvin has, after missing the season opener against Hawaii, played with nary a limp. Going through this season without suffering a new injury was his big test, and he has passed. Unlike Spikes, I see Percy as one of Kiper's "Stock Rising" guys. There's going to be a lot of skepticism when he initially declares. NFL execs are going to treat him as pure speed, finesse receiver. There are going to be people who think Harvin has a future as a running back.
Then he'll go to the combine. And the scouts are going to drool. He'll blow them away with some absurdly low number in the dash and impress them with his performance in agility drills. He'll bench press more than any other receiver in the draft. And once teams examine his film, they'll see a hard-nosed player who runs between the tackles and plows over defensive backs when he doesn't run past them.
This isn't complicated: Percy Harvin is pure electricity. He has world-class speed and agility. NFL teams desperately search for someone with Harvin's skillset and ability to score any time he touches the football. When he declares he'll be projected as a late first round, perhaps even early second round, choice. By the time the draft rolls around he'll be in the top 15. Don't be surprised to see the Buccaneers make a play for Harvin. They love Gators, they need someone like Harvin and they'll be in roughly the right draft position to take him or trade up for him.
That leaves us with Tim Tebow. Dominant, denigrated, beloved, mocked Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow, who has accomplished all there is to accomplish. Tim Tebow, who has proven all his doubters and all the skeptics wrong. Tim Tebow, who has more to prove to his doubters and the skeptics than any other player in college football. Tim Tebow, who could be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2035 and would see SEC fans standing outside Canton with their arms crossed, repeatedly muttering, "I still don't think he's a good quarterback."
No one knows if Saturday will be Tebow's final home game. He has said that he hasn't thought about the draft, and I find that believable. He has deep connections to UF: both of his parents attended school there and he grew up worshiping Danny Wuerrfel. He's a deeply religious man with no immediate need for an infusion of cash.
He has also said in the past that he dreams of playing in the NFL. And "I haven't thought about it" cuts both ways. Plus, the NCAA has hamstrung a lot of Tebow's missionary efforts, most notably in preventing him from playing in a charity golf tournament last off-season. Those restrictions are gone once Tebow has escaped from the bear hug of NCAA oversight.
"Should he leave" is the more interesting question, because whenever he jumps ship he's going to be the most polarizing player in the draft. I can already see the screaming matches between Kiper and Todd McShay.
Here's the thing about Tebow: when you sketch a large-scale portrait of him, he's a great NFL prospect. He has all the skills that league demands of its QBs. That's what people tend to ignore when they talk about the failures of past Florida quarterbacks: players like Wuerffel, Chris Leak and Shane Matthews were missing important pieces of that skillset; arm strength, size, mobility, etc.
That's not the case with Tim. He's got size. (6'3, 235 pounds, all of it muscle) He's got mobility. He's got a big arm, if one that's overshadowed by the cannon Matthew Stafford lugs around; you need only look at a highlight reel of his perfectly thrown deep balls to realize that. He's thrown eight interceptions in two years as a starter and consistently makes the right decision. He obviously has an impeccable performance record at an elite school in an elite conference. And his intangibles are untouchable.
It's only when you paint with a detail brush that you start finding flaws. For all the work UF's Biomechanics Lab has done with Tebow, his throwing motion still needs work. He hasn't taken a meaningful snap from under center since middle school. And Florida's offense doesn't require Tebow to make NFL throws. (The deep out, the deep out, that freaking deep out)
I would never argue that those things are unimportant. If the NFL draft is about nothing else it's about executives and pundits accentuating minor flaws and blowing them up into significant moral failings. ("If Tim Tebow's intangibles are so good, why didn't he influence Meyer into letting him take snaps from under center? Or did he lack the insight to understand that would be important? Either way, I have to question this young man's character.")
But all those concerns can be ameliorated. Tebow's mechanics need work, but Phillip Rivers' throwing motion was declared a federal disaster area when he was a top five draft pick.
The bigger problem is the system quarterback charge. I don't know if Tebow will be able to overcome that. But NFL coordinators are slowly evolving to a point where the shotgun spread formation is more than just an occasional gimmick. The Patriots last year used it, if not exclusively, than predominantly. And the Chiefs have become a fascinating case study in overhauling an offense in the middle of the season. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, never considered an innovative mastermind, has done great work in taking advantage of Tyler Thigpen's talents.
Read that again. If a team is willing to retool its offense for Tyler frigging Thigpen, there's reason to believe at least a few will explore the possibility of doing the same for Tim Tebow. All it takes is one team realizing that sometimes the mountain must come to Mohammed.
And I think that one team will be there. I can't say who it'll be. But some general manager, some scouting director, is going to fall head over heels in love with Tebow after watching him at the combine and interviewing him. Maybe 31 teams will be convinced that Tebow's a bust waiting to happen.
Still, it only takes one. And I'm convinced that Tebow has the skillset to be a successful NFL quarterback. That's no guarantee he will be, of course. Lots of failed QBs have had the necessary skillset, only to trip on some other factor. Tebow might very well fail in the NFL. The odds are against him.
But I reject the idea that he's uniquely vulnerable to failure. And I reject the idea that he's self-evidently not an NFL quarterback.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Democratic Senatorial caucus voted 42-13 today to let Joe Lieberman keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. They did kick him off the Environment and Public Works Committee, at which Lieberman has barely had the good grace to avoid laughing. Lieberman will stay in the Democratic caucus, though he keeps that nifty (I) next to his name.
Really, it's nice that Harry Reid and Evan Bayh are going around reminding their fellow Senators that the quality of mercy is not strained. Very literary. But the Democratic Party is not a religious order. Forgiveness is not a part of the founding charter; the Senators aren't under any obligation to extend a hand of friendship to the man memorably dubbed "Senator Sanctimony." Lieberman has to earn forgiveness. He has to do some penitence for his sins.
And oh, his political sins were certainly cardinal. It's one thing to decide against endorsing and vigorously campaigning for your party's presidential nominee, even though that nominee campaigned for you in 2006 when you were fighting for your political life. It's a far different thing to endorse and vigorously campaign for he opposition party's presidential nominee. It's a far, far different thing to viciously attack your party's nominee, as Lieberman did. He wasn't content with supporting McCain. He participated in some of the GOP's most odious assaults on President-Elect Obama's patriotism by saying Obama didn't always put country first and accusing him of trying to cut off funding for American troops in Iraq. As if all that wasn't enough, he campaigned for several Republican Congressional candidates.
Oh, and he's been the loudest cheerleader for the Iraq disaster and President Bush's evisceration of civil liberties. He has also demonized those who disagree with either of those things. Heck of a guy, Joe.
Democrats have always patted themselves on the back for being the "big tent party." It's generally a positive trait. But there have to be lines you can't cross, and Lieberman's crossed about 13 of them. He's spent the last two years vigorously working against the interests of the Democratic Party. At this point he is simply not a Democrat. The Democratic Party should not be handing him a reward for his actions.
I have no doubt that all (or at least most) of Lieberman's actions have been motivated by conscience. He clearly thinks the Iraq war is a grand idea. He obviously thinks poorly of Barack Obama and deeply respects John McCain. He did the right thing by his convictions when he campaigned for McCain.
But as the Republicans are quick to point out, actions have consequences, and Lieberman's convictions are not those held by the Democratic Party. Mercy is admirable. But from time-to-time, a leader has to break out an iron fist. The Democrats have decided instead to lay down a red carpet.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
South Carolina entered The Swamp ranked 24th in the country. They had the 3rd-best defense in the country, the 10th-best scoring defense and the 11th-best rushing defense. They had won six of seven.
They lost by fifty points, gave up 56 and allowed Florida to rush for 346 yards. But I suspect Spurrier won't complain to the media about Urban Meyer running up the score.
In fact, preliminary reports on the message board GatorCountry.com seem to indicate that Spurrier told Meyer at the postgame handshake to "Go win four in a row." That warms the heart of this UF alum. (And might give the university a new addition to its Go Gators commercial)
I wasn't exactly worried about the game, but South Carolina's defense presented a real threat. I figured Florida would scuffle for a bit before pulling out a 27-1o kind of victory. And for about nine minutes, this looked like a real game. Jeff Demps fumbled on Florida's first drive and the Gators had to punt on their second. South Carolina took over deep in its own territory with about six minutes to go and the score tied 0-0.
And that's when things went awry.
Gamecock QB Chris Smelley threw a hilariously bad interception to Brandon Spikes, who returned it for a touchdown. Ahmad Black intercepted Smelley on the next drive and Percy Harvin scored on the very next play. USC(E) tried to replicate the Music City Miracle on the ensuing kickoff, botched the trick play and set up Florida for a one-yard touchdown run. The game degenerated from there.
It was Percy's day. He ran for 167 yards on eight carries and broke an 80-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. That young man has lightning in his legs, and if he drops out of the first round of the NFL Draft I'll have compelling evidence that NFL GMs are morons.
Tim Tebow scored seven touchdowns and threw for about 250 yards against South Carolina last year, a performance that pretty much won him the Heisman. He didn't put up those kind of numbers this time around, but he did throw for two touchdowns and run for one more. He only picked up 173 passing yards and completed 13 of his 20 attempts.
But the story of the game and of the season has to be UF's much and justifiably maligned defense. We're now 10 games into the season, and Florida's defense entered tonight's game ranked 14th in the country. We have enough of a sample size to take that statistic seriously. And while South Carolina's offense is fairly unimpressive, it's hard not to smile hearing that Florida gave up only 173 total yards. The Gators even managed to generate pressure with the front four, which was something they haven't done with any consistency this year. UF intercepted three passes and now have 17 on the year. (They picked off 11 all last season) The last was a work of art from true freshman Will Hill, who won a Reggie Nelson-lookalike contest by swooping in out of nowhere to pick off Stephen Garcia.
With The Citadel up next, tonight's win essentially guarantees a 10-win season for the Gators, their second in the last three seasons. Only Florida State and Alabama stand between Florida and a chance at yet another national championship.
That's disappointing on one, obvious level. You can wave all the red flags you want regarding his high-stress delivery, last year's elbow injury and home/road splits. Those are legitimate fears, but the reality is there are risks any time you acquire a pitcher for multiple years.
And this is one special pitcher. I refuse to engage in the age-old practice of denigrating great players who come close to moving to the fan's favorite team but ultimately don't. That's a favorite pastime of college football fans on recruiting sites, and I'm seeing some of it on the Braves message board I frequent. Not only is Peavy an extraordinary player, he's signed at a relatively cheap rate for several years. A Peavy trade would not be a replay of the disastrous Teixeira move. Peavy could very easily be a part of the next good Braves team. And one could argue (rather poorly) that with Peavy on the roster, the "next good Braves team" could be the 2009 club.
But Braves GM Frank Wren probably made the right decision in pulling the plug. Reports vary, but the final offer seems to be some version of Yunel Escobar, Charlie Morton, Blaine Boyer and Gorkys Hernandez. I understand why that wasn't enough for Padres GM Kevin Towers. Escobar's a solid young player, but he's not a stud, and the three pitchers are far from sure things. If you're dealing Jake Peavy and his reasonable long-term contract, you want top-flight talent. There's no such thing a can't-miss prospect, but you want minor leaguers who are close enough.
In this case, that means you want super prospect Tommy Hanson, a pitcher who is busy eviscerating the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League. That means you want highly regarded outfielder Jason Heyward.
And Wren can't give up Hanson or Heyward. Those two, along with power-hitting catcher Tyler Flowers and first baseman Freddie Freeman, form the future of the franchise. Considering where the Braves stand, the future is more important than the present.
Friday, November 14, 2008
It wouldn't be a David Brooks column if it didn't include some questionable, sweeping generalizations. But I've spent enough attacking Brooks over the last several months, so I'll instead emphasize that I too am wary of the proposed bailout of the Big Three US automakers.
Unlike Brooks, I haven't made up my mind. He acknowledges that this is "an excruciatingly hard call." Millions of Americans make their living off the auto industry, from the UAW employees in Detroit to that annoying jackass who runs the local Ford dealership and invades your TV with poorly shot commercials where he hunts and kills large prices like he's in a Discovery Channel documentary.
And considering the state of the economy, the last thing this country needs are millions of unemployed auto workers, many of whom are older and don't have the kind of educational background and skillset that would allow them to find better jobs. It's easy to look down from on high, shrug your shoulders and say, "This is how capitalism works, kiddies. Bad companies fail, employees get fired. Sucks to be you. Have some unemployment compensation."
But, well, this kind of is how capitalism works. Ford, GM and Chrysler have been getting their asses kicked by Honda and Toyota for as long as I've been alive. The Japanese have continued to churn out better, cheaper, more fuel-efficient cars, while the American companies have been content to engage in an SUV arms race to see who can build the ungainliest manhood replacement. The market has spoken, and it's punishing the Big Three for their arrogance and willful ignorance.
The day those companies officially die (or, perhaps, file for bankruptcy) will certainly be a sad one, and there will be a lot of black crepe paper strewn about the capital to mourn the end of an era. But that is, I suppose, the downside of a free market. Previously good companies are mercilessly destroyed when competitors evolve. Good men are thrown out of work through no fault of their own. A city suffers. A national mythos long nurtured is rendered quaint.
I don't envy President-Elect Obama this decision, and I understand the inclination to help America's automakers. But I just can't get behind the idea of throwing billions at companies that are suffering because of their own mistakes.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Now, granted, this doesn't guarantee a series, and granted, I don't technically "get" HBO, in the since that I can watch it on a TV, and granted, this doesn't make up for the fact that George Martin can't write the damn fifth book. But still, great news.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
The Gators won by 28 points and the game still wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. Vanderbilt put up 14 meaningless points after the game was over and Tim Tebow was sitting on the bench. The Gators clinched the SEC Eastern Division, moved to 8-1 (6-1 in the SEC) on the year, guaranteed themselves a shot at #1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and Tebow continued his slow climb back into Heisman contention. So it was a good night all-around.
Tebow passed for three touchdowns and rushed for two more on the best running night of his season. Aside from the two touchdowns, he carried 11 times for 88 yards. (My keen graduate-school wannabe mathematical instincts tell me that's eight yards per rush. And I absolutely did not cheat by looking at the "YPC" column on ESPN.com) Florida had a lot of success with the bread and butter zone read play; Vandy's defense simply didn't have the talent to deal with Tebow, who's now up to 27 total touchdowns on the season.
Florida finished the game with 422 total yards, a respectable number against a defense that came into the game ranked pretty well in the various statistical categories. UF again spread the ball around pretty well; Carl Moore had four catches, Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy three apiece, Aaron Hernandez two and Deonte Thompson and Riley Cooper both reeled in one pass. Even rarely used disappointment David Nelson got into the act with a 41-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half. (I do so love blown coverages)
Emmanuel Moody finally earned some touches in important minutes, picking up 48 yards on seven carries. He's still not a natural fit for this offense, but he has a role to play as a powerful changeup to Harvin, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. (The latter two were relatively quiet for the second straight week)
It was, in short, a dominating performance. But I do have to strike one discordant note. After Tebow's second rushing touchdown, he seemed to clutch his lower back from time-to-time. Nothing terribly dramatic, but there was nothing terribly dramatic about how he handled his left shoulder after last year's Kentucky game.
More damning was Meyer's repeated use of what I'll creatively label the Wild Gator formation. Florida will occasionally direct snap to Harvin. They don't use it very often (fewer than once a game, on average), and they don't do anything terribly creative with it; I've never seen Harvin do anything but take the snap and run the ball.
Meyer broke out the formation four or five times tonight, including on a couple of plays at the goal line where Harvin just plowed straight into the Vanderbilt line. Percy's deceptively strong, and he scored with relative ease on the possession, but still, that's Tebow Territory. I wonder if something's bothering Superman.
But, that's all speculative. Florida has three more regular season games: the SEC finale next week with South Carolina and old friend Steve Spurrier, a snoozefest with Citadel and the rivalry game at FSU.
Friday, November 7, 2008
It's not quite right to say that no one cared about the 2007-2008 Florida basketball team. It's not quite right to say there was no consternation when the team missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in years. It's not quite right to say last season didn't matter.
But...well, it kind of didn't matter. When you win back-to-back national championships, the fans cut you a lot of slack. When you lose just about every player of consequence from those teams and lean heavily on true freshmen, the fans cut you a lot more. So there wasn't a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth last year when the Gators plummeted to a 24-12 record and the NIT. (Where, to be sure, they actually played fairly well)
We probably shouldn't expect much improvement from Calathes. "Upside" can be roughly defined as what we expect to happen when a player's wisdom matches his talent, and Calathes has the wisdom thing down pretty well. There aren't a lot of things he'll learn with additional experience. It's not that he's a flawless player; his defense is spotty and his jump shot isn't worthy of the label. The thing is, the shot part of that phrase isn't the problem; he hit 36 percent from beyond the arc last year. It's the jumping thing Nick has issues with. He simply doesn't have much of a vertical leap; he's 6'6 but plays like he's barely 6'0. Calathes doesn't have the explosiveness or athleticism to truly improve his game. He'll always be when he is right now, which is kind of a depressing thought, existentially speaking.
The old man of the team is Walter Hodge, the only senior on the team and the only player who was on both national championship teams. He's a great slasher, streaky shooter (39.8 percent from beyond the arc) and pesky on-ball defender, but he lacks the size and ball-handling ability to be anything more than a useful supporting player. Unfortunately, he's UF's starting shooting guard now that sophomore Jai Lucas (son of former NBA coach and point guard John Lucas) has transferred over concerns about his role.
That decision will press fascinating freshman Erving Walker into a bigger role than was perhaps anticipated for him. Walker is listed on Florida's web site at 5'8, 161 pounds; his profile on Scout.com has him at 5'8, 140 pounds, and he's probably closer to 5'7. It'll be interesting to see how Donovan utilizes Walker, who comes in with a reputation as a dynamic offensive player willing to chuck a three-pointer from any point on the floor. I'm hopeful that, in the long run, Walker will become UF's version of Devan Downey, South Carolina's Death Dwarf. Downey hectored Florida's guards through two games and nearly shot the Gamecocks to a couple upsets. For this season, however, Walker's probably going to be a defensive liability. But the Gators don't have a lot of options at guard. Mighty Mouse plays, whether he's ready for it or not.
The Front Court
Florida's weakness last year was pretty simple: they didn't have as many tall guys as most other teams. UF's one true big man, Marreese Speights, was a solid player, but didn't live up to the absurd expectations placed on him by the fans. He had great numbers in limited minutes as a freshman, a year crowned when he hit a jumper over Greg Oden in the Championship Game. When he didn't instantly become Wilt Chamberlain, the fans turned on him, and hard. By the time the 76ers drafted him in April, Speights was about as popular in Gator Nation as Darnell Dockett. They'll realize what they're missing this year, because the Gators again have serious issues with tall people.
In Wednesday's exhibition game against some school called "Rollins," the starting small forward position was occupied by 6'9 sophomore Chandler Parsons. Parsons was a high school teammate of Calathes, but wasn't the same caliber of prospect; he earned a scholarship only after busting his ass in his senior year. He's a weird player; 6'9, but only 213 pounds, and that's after an off-season of serious weight lifting. He's got an impressive long-range shot, good ball-handling skills and impressive passing ability. Like Calathes, he lacks the athleticism and explosiveness to play up to his size, and he's a decided liability in the post-up game. He's added some bulk, so he should be better this season, but he's not going to be a positive in the paint.
Nor will starting "power" forward, junior Dan Werner. Werner's one of those dangerous type of players: just good enough in the right areas to make a coach fall in love, not good enough to actually be a positive force. He's a smart guy, knows where he needs to be on the court and knows where everyone else should be on the court. He makes the right pass and plays well fundamentally. Theoretically he can stretch the floor with his jumper. In reality, he's a career 28.4 percent three-point shooter who lacks the size to bang down low (he's the least impressive-looking 6'8, 230-pound man I've ever seen), the athleticism to play small forward and the ball-handling ability to deal with any kind of pressure. He's a place-holder type, but Donovan loves him for those strengths I detailed earlier.
The Great Freshman Hope is Kenny Kadji, a 6-10, 245-pounder who was one of the best prospects in the country coming out of high school. Donovan's going to lean heavily on him, as Kadji's the best chance Florida has to actually field a legitimately effective big man this year. It's not a good thing you can say that about a true freshman.
Fellow freshman Eloy Vargas was another four star prospect and might be more talented than Kadji. But he's listed at 6'10, 215 pounds and is more of a developmental prospect than someone who can jump into the SEC right now and play with the big boys. He has a decent perimeter game, and Donovan loves big men who can shoot the three (Matt Bonner, anyone?), so he'll get some playing time. But his main contribution to the classic big man game will be as a designated fouler.
There are two other freshman I'm not terribly familiar with: 6'5 guard/forward Ray Shipman and 6'8 power forward Allan Chaney. Both will be asked to do a lot, especially Chaney, who seems like a bulldozer type.
One year out of the tournament is OK, but two straight seasons without any dancing would be a serious setback for the Florida basketball program. The Gators need to reach the tournament, even if it's as an eight seed that loses in the second round.
They can do that. Paradoxically, while Florida wasn't particularly close to making the tournament last year, they really were just two games from sneaking in: flip the loss at Vanderbilt and the home loss to Tennessee into wins, and the Gators are probably a tournament team.
The SEC isn't particularly good, and the Gators might be able to eek out 10 wins on talent alone. If they do that, they should be a tournament team. Those are the expectations for this year. Anything more is really a bonus.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
He has won for himself the responsibility of fighting the myriad problems besetting his nation. He has won for himself the task of ending a disastrous, unjust war and the task of rescuing from oblivion another. He has won for himself the right to squarely face a financial crisis of monstrous proportions.
He has won for all Americans the promise of hope. He was won for all Americans a triumph of idealism over cynicism, of striving over cowering. He was won for all Americans the right to look their children in the eyes and tell them, "In this country, any child can grow up to be president." He has won for Americans a dream of promises fulfilled and potential reached.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
I was about an hour and a half early, so I got to spend that time cutting my fingers on plastic door hangers. Yes, I am that dexterous. Any woman who wants my phone number need only shoot me an email.
They eventually sent me out to the streets, and not just because of my issues with the door hangers. I was teamed up with another volunteer (a lifelong Republican who crossed party lines and wore four different Obama buttons) and told to go do some canvassing. I drove out to Independence convinced I would spend all day in Missouri and work all three volunteer shifts. After walking around Independence from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm while lugging around a clipboard and vicious door hangers, I called it a day. Turns out idealism and one donut isn't much fuel.
I'll have to disappoint anyone looking for insights based on this experience. We talked to about 30 people (and visited about 100 homes), and only found three people who copped to being McCain supporters. Most who spoke with us said they planned to vote for Obama, though a handful were still undecided. The Obama folks were, as expected, thoroughly organized. They were also very nice to me, though I suspect that won't play much role Tuesday.
The heartwarming moment of the afternoon came when we were trekking through a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Only one of the five voters was home, but we stuck hangers on the doors of the absent ones.
We had just finished putting up a hanger and were walking down the street when two little girls, about seven or eight years old, excitedly ran up behind us.
"What ya doing?"
We explained that we were looking for people who liked Barack Obama. Their faces lit up.
"Oh, oh, we're voting for Obama!"
We smiled and asked if their parents were going to vote for Obama. They nodded. Then one of the girls noticed our door hangers and asked if she could have one. We gave one to her, of course, and then her friend simply had to have one too. They thanked us and sprinted away.
A couple minutes later they came sprinting right back out of a house, the hangers tightly gripped in their hands, with a couple more friends jealously tagging along after them. Naturally those friends desperately needed their own door hangers, and once we equipped everyone with a hanger there was much rejoicing.
After knocking on our last door, we walked back to our car so we could move on to a new neighborhood. Behind us we heard four or five girly, delightfully shrill little voices melodically chanting, "O-bam-a! O-bam-a! O-bam-a!"
If that doesn't move you at least a little you need to check your full-sized aortic pump.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Florida's defense stopped The Hurdling Running Back (18 carries for 68 yards) and made The Human Arm realize that a brain is also nice. (18 of 33, 268 yards, three interceptions) The offense adeptly handled the great field position granted by the defense and Tim Tebow launched himself back into the Heisman conversation. (10 of 13, 148 yards, two TDs, plus three rushing touchdowns)
It was, in short, an almost perfect piece of revenge for last year's Cocktail Party disaster. The Gators got some help from Georgia and the officials; the Bulldogs missed two field goals, both relative chip shots, and Stafford's interceptions came on some silly throws.
UF's secondary scuffled at points, those three interceptions notwithstanding. Stafford threw for 268 yards and Georgia gained 295 total through the air. Major Wright botched a handful of plays, one of which resulted in Georgia converting a 3rd and 19. Mohamed Massaquoi routinely abused Joe Haden, and the Gators showed no desire to cover a handful of Georgia tight ends.
It's also worth pointing out that very little of what I predicted Friday came true. It wasn't a shootout (a shootout requires two participants), Urban Meyer didn't break out any gadget plays, the running game wasn't particularly dynamic (they picked up 178 yards on the ground, and 65 of those came from Emmanuel Moody in garbage time) and he certainly didn't use any I-formation plays. I'm OK with being wrong.
The back-breaking play was Joe Haden's interception in the third quarter, Florida's first of the game and the first time the Gators showed any ability to stop Stafford. Leading 14-3, the Gators were forced to punt after Brandon James dropped an eminently catchable third down pass. Though Florida pinned Georgia on its own two-yard line, the Bulldogs drove down the field with relative ease, Stafford completing pass after pass to wide open receivers.
Haden reversed the momentum of the game by slipping inside of Green at the 11-yard line and intercepting Stafford's throw. Haden ran 80 yards before being knocked out of bounds at Georgia's one. Tebow plowed in on the very next play, giving Florida a 21-3 lead.
The Bulldogs never seriously threatened after that point. Florida forced a three and out and Tebow responded by hitting Louis Murphy on a 44-yard TD pass. Down 28-3, Knowshon Moreno fumbled a toss on the next drive. Florida recovered, and defensive tackle Terron "Barry" Sanders did some nifty scoopin' and spinnin' to take the ball to Georgia's seven-yard line. Tebow scored on the next play, and the rout was on.
Florida is 5-1 in the conference. The task is pretty clear right now: win next week at Vanderbilt, clinch a berth in the SEC Championship game. Period, end of story. The game's in Nashville, and the Commodores always seem to annoy Florida, so Meyer would be advised to take this one seriously.
The national championship picture is more convoluted. Three undefeated teams stand ahead of the Gators, and Penn State has few challenges left on the schedule. Texas has tonight's game against Texas Tech and a Big XII championship game left to play. And the Gators are going to have a shot to knock off the undefeated Crimson Tide.
The biggest test on Florida's schedule looks to be Florida State. The Seminoles lost today and they don't have UF's talent, but the game's in Tallahassee and it would make FSU's year to ruin Florida's shot at a title.
All of that's in the future. The present, on the other hand, is pretty spectacular.
Obama- 338 votes
McCain- 200 votes
First, the methodology. I used a system nearly as complex as the one employed by Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight: I looked at a map of the 2004 results and guessed which way the states would go this year. Very scientific.
Details, details, details. I don't think McCain will win over any of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004. I say this even though I'm panicking a little over recent polls in Pennsylvania that show McCain closing the gap. I think/hope/pray it'll be too little, too late, though it's worth noting that even with Pennsylvania McCain's not particularly close to the 270 votes he needs. Pulling the Keystone State puts him at 221 votes, while Obama rests comfortably at 317. McCain's also got a deep connection with New Hampshire, Obama quite famously lost the primary there and there aren't a lot of African-Americans in the state. But most recent polling indicates Obama's pretty safe up there.
The election is increasingly being fought in the Bush states; if McCain can hold most of those, he can still pull out a narrow win. I obviously don't have him doing that.
Iowa and New Mexico both seem relatively safe for Obama. Iowa has seven electoral votes, New Mexico five; add those 12 to the 251 Kerry pulled in 2004, and Obama's just seven votes from victory.
I think he gets the decisive states with relative ease. I've got Colorado going for Obama; add those nine votes to our running total, and Obama's at 272 and victory.
The rest of this is pretty much a tired litany of states. I think Obama takes Ohio, Nevada and Virginia in addition to the other states I mentioned. The biggest prize will be Florida; I think Obama gets an unlikely, come-from-behind victory after trailing most of the race in the state of my birth. Florida's been one of the biggest victims of the mortgage crisis, and I think economic anxiety combines with massive African-American turnout in the urban areas to give Obama the state's 27 electoral votes.
(Quick note: there was one "faithless elector" in 2004 who cast a presidential ballot for John Edwards. I'm assuming everyone writes in the correct names this time around)
I'm obviously predicting pretty big things for Obama, though it's worth noting that the FiveThirtyEight projection is even more optimistic, giving Obama 349.7 electoral votes. Their system has Obama taking North Carolina. I'm still skeptical; North Carolina might be a bridge too far this time around. It hasn't experienced quite the same demographic shifts as Virginia, and I can't quite bring myself to predict that huge turnout in the "Research Triangle" and among African-Americans will be enough to carry the state.
I'll believe Obama can win Indiana when I see it. It hasn't voted for a Democrat since 1964, and that was LBJ's landslide year. The Ku Klux Klan also reached the heights of its power in Indiana. That was, to be sure, in the 1920's, but there's an uncomfortable legacy there that will hinder Obama.
I also have McCain holding on to Missouri, meaning the state will lose its status as a presidential bellwether. Missouri's a true toss-up, the closest state on the map. Obama certainly has a great chance to win, but the state's been trending Republican in recent years. McCain wins by the skin of his teeth.