Friday, October 30, 2009

Texas' last hurdle?

A lot of folks believe tomorrow's game against Oklahoma State is Texas' last hurdle on its way to a regular season undefeated season and a berth in the BCS title game against the SEC champion. I'm not so sure after the way Texas A&M brutalized Texas Tech last weekend, but that could have been a fluke.

What is not a fluke is what Texas coordinator Will Muscamp has accomplished in just two years with the team's defense. This is the unit that is winning games for the Longhorns, not the Colt McCoy-led offense. The Longhorns' D has forced 21 turnovers this year, nine more than it had all of last season. Safety Earl Thomas has five interceptions.

Yes, Texas has an offense -- it is leading the Big 12 by scoring an average of 41 points a game. If it comes close that number tomorrow it should have no trouble with Oklahoma State which will be without big play receiver, the suspended Dez Bryant, and will only allow it's best running back, Kendell Hunter, to see limited action. OSU has perhaps the best offensive line in the conference, but it has yet to be tested with a defense like Texas.

Texas has won the last 11 meetings between these two teams, but many of those wins were dicey propositions. In fact, in the last two games held in Stillwater, where this one will be played, Texas had to come back from 19 points down in 2005 and 21 points down in the fourth quarter in 2007.

This year I think the game will be lower scoring, more like the Texas-OU game with the Longhorns winning by 10.

The weekend's other big game is being played in the Northwest where Oregon will host Southern California in a game that could decide the Pac 10 championship. Oregon is undefeated in conference (it's only loss this season is that punch-ending game against Boise State) while USC, which has had the habit of late of losing one conference game unexpectedly each year, has already done that this season -- a last second loss to Washington. This, to me, is the weakest USC team I've seen in a long time but it was still strong enough to win at Ohio State and at Notre Dame, so playing in loud loud loud Autzen Stadium should not be that big a handicap for these Trojans.

After that opening loss to Boise, Oregon has been impressive, with convincing wins over Utah and Cal and road victories against UCLA and Washington. The Ducks are solid on both sides of the line, with freshman running back LaMichael James (who has rushed for more than 150 yards three times this season and last week averaged 10.3 yards a carry against Washington) and dual threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli who has passed for five TDs this season and ran for seven more.

The deciding factor, however, is going to be Oregon's underrated defense, which I consider superior to USC's more heralded one. I think the Ducks D will harass Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley all day -- even sack him a couple of times -- and lead Oregon to the three-point victory and put an end the Trojan's streak of eight straight conference championships.

Usually the Florida-Georgia game is a bigger attraction than it is this year, but Georgia is struggling (it's not even in the Top 25) and Florida, even though ranked No. 1, has not been playing up the level even its most ardent supporters expected. A win in this game and Florida should breeze into the SEC title game undefeated and that win should come fairly easily. Florida by 17.

In other games (listed by how competitive I think they will be):
Mississippi over Auburn by 1
California over Arizona State by 3
Missouri over Colorado by 3
Boston College over Central Michigan by 7
Texas Tech over Kansas by 7
Tennessee over South Carolina by 10
Connecticut over Rutgers by 10
Houston over Southern Mississippi by 10
Miami over Wake Forest by 10
Navy over Temple by 10
Nebraska over Baylor by 14
Cincinnati over Syracuse by 21
Penn State over Northwestern by 21
Georgia Tech over Vanderbilt by 21
Oklahoma over Kansas State by 24
Utah by Wyoming by 24
Iowa over Indiana by 28
Notre Dame over Washington State by 28
Boise State over San Jose State by 28
TCU over UNLV by 35
LSU over Tulane by 38
Ohio State over New Mexico State by 42

Senate should model its health care reform bill on House's version

The House of Representatives has introduced a health care reform bill that accomplishes what this legislation is supposed to do -- greatly reduce the number of uninsured while reducing budget deficits. It includes a public option, but not one as strong as I would like --i.e., the option plan doesn't pay doctors and hospitals based on Medicare rates -- but at least one is in there. The problem with it is the public option probably will cost more than the average private plan because it might only attract the sickest people.

Still, it's far superior to the Senate plan. The bill would generate enough taxes (the chief one being a surcharge on the part of annual income exceeding $1 million for couples and $.5 million for individuals -- after all the tax breaks that benefited the wealthy during the Bush administration it's fitting they pay a heavy share of health care reform) and Medicare savings so that the net effect of the bill would be to reduce the deficit by $104 million over the next 10 years.

It requires employers, except for small businesses, to either offer health care benefits to their employees and pay a large portion of the cost of that care, or face a severe penalty. By the year 2019, it is expected this bill would provide health insurance to 96 percent of all Americans who are not elderly and living here legally. It would allow young people up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' policies. It would provide immediate help to those who have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

The Senate should come up with a bill as fiscally responsible and one that gets as close to universal coverage as this one.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How do you feel about a Michael Douglas-Matt Damon love scene in a hot tub?

Apparently such a scene is supposed to be included in Steven Soderbergh's proposed biopic of flamboyant pianist Wladziu Valentino Liberace with Douglas starring as the diamond-flashing Librace and Damon cast as his companion, Scott Thorson, who was 30 years younger than Librace.

"Everybody is hopeful that there will be a full-on, love-wrestling match between these guys," Soderbergh recently told MTV. "That's not where my mind went. But we have a hot-tub scene in there."

"I don't think it's a comedy," Soderbergh continued, "but it's pretty funny because the environment and the lifestyle are so extreme that even just having these guys carry on a quote-unquote 'normal' conversation in one of these rooms wearing the clothes that they wore, it's hard to look at that and take it at face value. It lands in a really unexpected way. The ending is surprisingly emotional. It will be unexpected. It ends really, really well. I'm really excited about it Those guys (Douglas and Damon) are going to be amazing."

My question is whether enough people remember Librace or care that much about it to see such a film. I have my doubts, but then Soderbergh has never been a director who tied himself to purely commercial successes (Bubble, Full Frontal).

First quarter 2010 may be better than average

Normally the first quarter in any calendar year is a famine period for serious film lovers. That's because producers want to push their quality films to later in the year for awards consideration (figuring Oscar voters, as an example, have extremely short memories).

However, I have three reasons to think that the first quarter of 2010 might offer some good, serious fare. I came to that conclusion after seeing this trailer for Paul Greengrass' Green Zone, which comes across as nothing more than Jason Bourne Goes to Iraq, complete with Jason himself, Matt Damon, in the lead role. I've even heard from sources that this film was originally planned for release late this year, but pushed it to 2010 because it was believed the awards season could handle only one Iraq movie, and that movie was going to be The Hurt Locker.

Then there's Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Judging from this trailer, I'm not expecting an awards-caliber film here, just a damn good movie-going experience like Scorsese delivered with Cape Fear, After Hours and The Last Waltz. This film also was originally scheduled for this year but pushed back because Paramount felt it would conflict with other films the studio wanted to push for Oscars.

The final reason I think the first quarter of 2010 will be better than average is Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, the trailer of which is available here.

Is "Invictus" really a sports movie?

Up until this morning, I was thinking Clint Eastwood's Invictus was going to be a filmed biography of South Africa's Nelson Mandela. Now, after seeing this trailer, I'm thinking it's going to be a sports movie -- specifically how Mandela recruited one of his country's white rugby players (played by Matt Damon, who gets to show off his specs in the trailer) to form a team that will represent South Africa and win the World Cup. I'm not sure what to make of that. Does it lessen the prestige of the film? Of course, Eastwood could be using the entire rugby theme as a metaphor for Nelson's accomplishments, but if you look at Eastwood's best films -- Outlaw Josie Wells, Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima -- Eastwood doesn't really mess with metaphors. The film is scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 11.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

McCoy third in Heisman race, Texas still third in SI's playoff bracket

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is current running third in the Heisman Trophy race, according to The HeismanPundit.Com., behind Alabama running back Mark Ingram and Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. HeismanPundit.Com polls Heisman voters from around the country. Last year, it picked five of the six top finishers correctly including Sam Bradford as the winner. The complete results of the poll announced today are:

1. Mark Ingram, running back, Alabama
2. Jimmy Clausen, quarterback, Notre Dame
3. Colt McCoy, quarterback, Texas
4. Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida
5. Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle, Nebraska
6. (tie) Case Keenum, quarterback, Houston; Golden Tate, wide receiver, Notre Dame
8. (tie) Jacquizz Rodgers, running back, Oregon State; Kellen Moore, quarterback, Boise State
10. Eric Berry, defensive back, Tennessee

Sports Illustrated's proposed 16-team college football playoff bracket after last weekend's games:

(1) Florida vs. (16) Houston
(8) Boise State vs. (9) LSU
(5) USC vs. (12) Penn State
(4) Cincinnati vs. (13) Oklahoma State
(3) Texas vs. (14) Virginia Tech
(6) TCU vs. (11) Georgia Tech
(7) Iowa vs. (10) Oregon
(2) Alabama vs. (15) Pittsburgh

My take on the constitutional amendments

Proposition 1: It's not the responsibility of homeowners to subsidize military sprawl and force cities and towns to take on additional debt that could increase property taxes. I'm voting No.

Proposition 2: To be honest, I'm not sure what this proposition will do, but political associates in Austin tell me that it could wind up lowering property taxes bases and for that reason I'm voting No.

Proposition 3: This is a no-brainer. The proposition would remove the enforcement of appraisal standards from counties and put them under statewide supervision, which would shift along with the prevailing political winds. It could also force residents to travel long distances to protest appraisals. A big No on this from me.

Proposition 4: Another no-brainer--a proposition that could positively effect Texas education and the state's economy. It would direct funds towards universities trying to become Tier 1 universities. This could attract leading researchers to our state, especially to institutions like UT-Arlington or UT-El Paso, where they are needed. It will also allow Texas students to reach higher levels of educational achievement. Plus it will come from money the state already has. Gov. Hair is campaigning against this saying the private sector should supply all the innovation Texas needs (and then he rejects clean energy businesses to make sure we never get this innovation). I'm voting a solid YES.

Proposition 5: Allows adjoining counties to form joint appraisal districts. This proposition doesn't really effect me (Dallas County won't be consolidating with a neighbor), but I'm thinking it's important enough in rural areas that I'm going to vote Yes.

Proposition 6: We must keep our promises to our veterans and a proposition that will continue to allow them to buy homes is going to get a Yes vote from me.

Proposition 7: The state constitution prohibits individuals from holding more than one compensated position with the state, but I see no harm in allowing members of the State Guard to hold a civil office so I'm voting Yes on this one.

Proposition 8 would provide much-needed medical care to 1.7 million veterans living in Texas, one-third of whom are denied care because they live too far from a veterans hospital. Another no-brainer. Yes.

Proposition 9 will protect the right of every Texan to spread their towel and relax on a beach. Who could possibly be against this? (OK, some homeowners who are seeing their beachfront properties being reduced by erosion.) Still I'm for open beaches so I'm voting Yes.

Proposition 11: This is another complicated one dealing with eminent domain. But what made me decide to vote No on this one came when Gov. Hair, who strongly supports it, was asked if it would prevent the seizure of land for another Trans-Texas Corridor and he refused to answer the question.

Don't worry about Texas opting out ... yet

The current Senate version of the health care reform package contains a public option as well as a mechanism for states, like Texas, which has a history of denying its citizens adequate health care protections, to opt out of the public option.

There's no question that a majority of Texas political leaders are in bed with the insurance companies. (It should also be noted that many of these same hacks -- I'm trying to discover exactly how many -- are on Medicare, meaning they are denying their constituents the same kind of health insurance they themselves enjoy.) That's one of the reasons Texas leads the nation in the disgraceful category of the most citizens without any health insurance at all -- 24.1 percent.

Yet, polls indicate and overwhelming majority of Texans, like the rest of the country, wants health insurance reforms that will increase competition and provide more quality, affordable options for the middle-class.

So here's the good news: That majority of Texas leaders can't, by themselves, opt Texans out of the public option.

From what I've learned, here's how the reform package will be implemented. The National insurance exchange is phased in and reforms begin taking effect in 2011-2012. The public option begins in 2013. The earliest states can opt out is 2014 and will require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature to pass an opt-out bill. Thus, to vote in favor of opting out will put legislators in the precarious position of taking away constituents' health insurance, a little dicier proposition than just denying them health care, which they are doing now. Plus, the governor could veto opt-out legislation, but if either Gov. Hair or Sen. Hutch is in the governor's mansion, we know that won't happen.

There's a couple of election cycles between now and 2014. It is incumbent on every editorial board of every newspaper in Texas to include in its interviews with legislative candidates whether they would vote to opt out of a public health care option and report that information to its readers. That question must be posed to any legislative candidate in any public forum. As for me -- and I'm betting many other middle-income and lower-income Texans feel the same way -- a candidate's position on that issue will determine whether he or she will receive my vote. By going to the polls and voting for those candidates who care about the health and well-being of their constituents, we can make sure the legislature never comes close to having the two-thirds majority needed to pass opt-out legislation.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) **½ I am not someone who insists that cartoons obey the laws of physics or stick to the historical record. The Acme Corporation will not deliver a home catapult kit to an unmarked mesa in the desert Southwest, and, Up notwithstanding, even a modest bungalow is unlikely to make an intercontinental flight propelled solely by helium balloons. Everyone is aware of these fundamental truths, and no one is likely to complain when they are flouted for purposes of entertainment. But the idea that a hot, verdant land, populated by giant lizards and carnivorous plants, might have lain hidden beneath the glacial, prehistoric ice — I’m sorry, but that’s just idiotic. I don’t mean to sound like a 9-year-old or a dogmatic Darwinian, but really. Come on. T. rexes chasing woolly mammoths? Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs? What? Dawn of the dinosaurs? In the Ice Age? You’ve got to be kidding. I know. This kind of anachronism is trendy at the moment, what with Year One and Land of the Lost and Star Trek. But weren’t underground dinosaurs in 3-D already tried last summer in the abysmal Journey to the Center of the Earth? Couldn’t the creative minds at the 20th Century Fox animation studios, hoping to wring a few hundred million dollars more out of their prized family-animation franchise, have come up with something more original? Dumb question. Grade: C

Il Divo (2009) **** "I don’t believe in chance, I believe in the will of God." That credo, spoken in a dry, dispassionate voice, drops more than once from the mouth of Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo), the scandal-ridden seven-time Italian prime minister, in Paolo Sorrentino’s flamboyant biographical fantasy, Il Divo. A label once applied to Julius Caesar, Il Divo is only one of several popular nicknames for Mr. Andreotti, who entered the Italian political arena in the late 1940s and is now 90. As the right-leaning leader of the country’s centrist Christian Democratic party, Mr. Andreotti, elected to his first term as prime minister in 1972, has been called the Sphinx, the Hunchback, the Black Pope and Beelzebub. He was appointed a senator for life in 1991. In exploring Mr. Andreotti’s possible connections to a stream of political assassinations and to other killings made to look like suicides, which began in the late 1970s and continued into the early ’90s, Il Divo has the tone and style of a blood-soaked comic opera. Grade: A-

Medicine for Melancholy (2009) ****½ "Everything about being indie is tied to not being black," says Micah (Wyatt Cenac), half of the accidental kind-of couple whose one-day romance is chronicled in Medicine for Melancholy. He is making an observation — and also registering a complaint — about the quasi-bohemian way of life he shares with Jo’ (Tracey Heggins), his temporary other half. It bothers Micah that their embrace of the folkways of urban hipsterism seems to require the suppression of their African-American identity. But his words, which Jo’ doesn’t quite agree with, also suggest a degree of self-awareness, and self-questioning, on the part of Barry Jenkins, who wrote and directed this small, incisive film. Most recent movies about culturally savvy, affectless 20-somethings hooking up and being cool are very much tied to not being black. They are about diffident, underemployed white boys and the women who (sometimes inexplicably) go to bed with them. It wouldn’t be entirely fair to say that Mr. Jenkins, a 29-year-old director whose immersion in movie history is both ardent and understated, is making a black version of a Joe Swanberg or Andrew Bujalski film, or even, to stretch the comparisons a bit further back, a mash-up of Before Sunrise and She’s Gotta Have It. But it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate, either, because the tricky questions that govern Medicine for Melancholy are how, why and to what extent race should matter in relationships between black men and women. Grade: A

Nothing Like the Holidays (2008) **½ The gnarly dead tree in front of the Rodriguez house in Humboldt Park, a working-class Latino neighborhood of Chicago, will not be processed into kindling. As the Rodriguez menfolk, gathered for Christmas, attack it with chain saws, their incompetence with power tools makes them look like fools. Even when they try to drag it out of the earth with ropes and chains attached to a car, it refuses to budge. That old dead tree is an unwieldy metaphor for family solidarity in Nothing Like the Holidays, an efficient home-for-Christmas ensemble comedy trimmed with plastic teardrops. But the tree might also stand for a wooden holiday genre in which uplift follows tumult as surely as Christmas morning follows Christmas Eve. Grade: C

Orphan (2009) **Actors have to eat like the rest of us, if evidently not as much, but you still have to wonder how the independent film mainstays Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard ended up wading through Orphan and, for the most part, not laughing. He plays the father, John, an architect, and she plays the mother, Kate, who doesn’t do much of anything. Together they watch over Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and a younger girl, Max (Aryana Engineer), in one of those sprawling houses that always looks spotless even if no one ever drags a mop across its polished floors, which makes you wonder who will swab up the inevitable pooling blood. And the blood it does spill, though not nearly fast enough. Grade: C-

Whatever Works (2009) ** Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A guy walks into a meaningless universe. He sees this gorgeous blonde sitting at the bar. It’s obvious she’s never read a word of Dostoevsky, much less Kierkegaard. So he says to her, "Is it meaningless in here, or is it just me?," and she says, "My place or yours?" I know, I know. It’s an old joke, and I didn’t tell it quite right. But that’s just my point. With material like this — a Jewish intellectual type shrugging his shoulders, looking into the camera, spitting out fancy Latinate words as if he’d just swallowed a thesaurus, while an eager young actress of the moment flits around looks sultry and clueless — execution is everything. So my problem with Whatever Works, the latest movie from, duh, Woody Allen, is not that the premise, more or less summed up in the paragraph above, is a wee bit familiar. Rather, it’s that the delivery is off. Grade: C-

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Council committees to be briefed on one-day-a-week garbage pickup, Katy Trail extension

Monday is usually the busy day for Dallas City Council committee meetings and, I gotta tell ya, I really feel sorry for council members Jerry Allen, Ann Margolin, Vonciel Jones Hill, Angela Hunt, Delia Jasso, Ron Natinsky and Dave Neumann, who, as members of Budget, Finance and Audit Committee, must sit through the following briefings:
  • Property Appraisal Process Overview

  • Real Property Acquisition Procedures and Requirements

  • Annual Investment Policy Review and Discussion of Investment Strategies

  • Quarterly Investment Report

  • August 2009 Financial Forecast Report
OK, that first one could be interesting because it will feature Ken Nolan, chief appraiser/executive director of the Dallas Central Appraisal District trying to explain how DCAD values our homes and places of business -- all 815,689 of them (I thought there would be more) -- for property tax purposes. Ms. Hunt ought to have fun with this one, especially since she was loudly critical of the way in DCAD appraised the land on which the convention center hotel will be constructed.

Things pick up at noon, however, when the Quality of Life Committee will (after plodding through a briefing on "Urban Foresty Inventory Using Concurrent Airborne LiDAR & Hyperspectral Remote Sensing"-- a topic that sparks heated debates between me and my granddaughter on a regular basis) hear about when the Katy Trail will be expanded to the White Rock Rail Station and next March's rollout of "OneDAYDallas," once-a-week, same-day garbage/recycling pickup.

OneDAY was instituted in far North Dallas in March 2008. Northwest Dallas followed in Feb. 2009. This year the City said to hell with this piecemeal approach, let's go all-hog, so all the rest of the city -- about 180,000 households, according to this briefing -- will be switched over March 1.

The briefing outlines how Sanitation Services plans to switch, where households will have different pickup days from what they have now, and, most importantly, how it plans to notify those 180,000 households about the switch to once-a-week garbage pickup. Although the topic was addressed at every budget townhall meeting I attended throughout the city, I'm betting, at the most, less than 10 percent of those households are aware of what's coming. My entire neighborhood doesn't know about about it, nor does it know that the switch (thankfully/finally) means we will be switching from black and blue bags to the city-issued roll carts.

The Katy Trail briefing features some sexy pictures of a pedestrian bridge over Mockingbird Ave., but I'll save you some time and give away the punchline. The trail is expected to reach Skillman by March 2011 and to White Rock Station, where, presumably, it will link with the White Rock Trail, by September 2011. That means I could ride my bike from my Northeast Dallas hood all the way to the American Airlines Center for home Maverick games. Now ask me how often I plan to do that.

And then there were 12

Now that "Amelia" has (pardon the pun) crashed, the 10 Oscar nominated films for best picture will come from this list of 12 films:
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglorious Basterds
The Lovely Bones
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire
The Road
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Friday, October 23, 2009

Orrin needs to close his hatch

I've been thinking a lot recently about Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and some of his latest outbursts. He doesn't think government should get involved in protecting the health care of its citizens but he does think the feds should interfere in deciding college football's national champion and inflating the population of his home state.

Although the federal census is supposed to be a tally of how many folks we have living in this land of ours, Hatch has submitted a stupid amendment to the legislation calling for next year's population count that would force census takers to include all those Mormons off on missionary duties in far-flung lands. He's obviously hoping there's enough overseas Mormons out there to land Utah at least one more representative in Congress. But what he's actually doing is nullifying the purpose of the census.

He also thinks the Justice Department should file antitrust actions against the BCS. He's upset because Utah wasn't named National Champions last year and he blames it on the BCS which, he claims, limits competition by excluding teams from non BCS conferences from consideration. Look. Utah should have been named National Champions last year. The Utes were the only undefeated team in the upper division in 2008. Not only that, in its final game of the season, Utah handed Alabama, which had been No. 1 for most the year, its worst loss of the year.

The problem is not the BCS alone, however. The final AP Poll, which has no connection to the BCS, also failed to name Utah No. 1. And no amount of federal intervention is going to alter the prejudices of those out-of-touch sportswriters who vote in that poll.

I bring all this up right now because this year there are two teams, Boise State and TCU, who are challenging to be the Utah of 2009 and one of them, TCU, plays BYU, home to all those current and future Mormon missionaries, in what is unquestionably the spotlight game of this weekend's college football schedule.

TCU needs this win badly to remain BCS-bowl eligible with a possible shot at a national title (although if Boise State goes undefeated, TCU probably will be denied that shot). The game will pit TCU's superb defense, led by defensive ends Jerry Hughes (who sacked BYU quarterback Max Hall four times in last year's game and already has eight sacks this season) and Wayne Daniels. If BYU hopes to come away with a win, its offensive line must give Hall more time to find his receivers. I don't think it will and that's why I'm picking TCU to barely squeak by. TCU by 2 points.

Iowa's game at Michigan State has all the signs of an upset (Iowa has never--ever--been 8-0 in a college football season) but the Hawkeyes seemed to be focused this year and quarterback Ricky Stanzi is 15-3 as a starter. Iowa by 5.

LSU knows it still has a shot at the national title and if it defeats Alabama in two weeks and Florida in the SEC championship game, it has a shot for playing for one again. That's just one of the reasons I don't think it will be derailed Saturday by Auburn. LSU by 6.

Penn State hasn't defeated Michigan in Ann Arbor since 1996, but Penn State wants to play in the Rose Bowl and its defense usually does well against offenses as poor as Michigan's. It will be a nail-biter, but I'm going with Penn State by 1.

In this week's other games of note, I'm picking (no real upsets):
Kansas State over Colorado by 3
Georgia Tech over Virginia by 5
Miami over Clemson by 5
West Virginia over Connecticut by 5
Pittsburgh over South Florida by 6
Utah over Air Force by 6
Oklahoma over Kansas by 7
Oregon over Washington by 8
Oklahoma State over Baylor by 10
Texas over Missouri by 11
Houston over SMU by 12
Florida over Mississippi State by 16
Alabama over Tennessee by 17
Ohio State over Minnesota by 17
Southern California over Oregon State by 19
Nebraska over Iowa State by 21
South Carolina over Vanderbilt by 21
Boise State over Hawaii by 22
Texas Tech over Texas A&M by 23
Cincinnati over Louisville by 25

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This week's SI college playoff bracket

(1) Alabama vs. (16) BYU
(8) Miami vs. (9) LSU
(5) Cincinnati vs. (12) Georgia Tech
(4) USC vs. (13) Penn State
(3) Texas vs. (14) Oklahoma State
(6) Boise State vs. (11) Oregon
(7) Iowa vs. (10) TCU
(2) Florida vs. (15) Virginia Tech

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New movies released today on DVD

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009) *½ Set primarily on an American military base near Tokyo (the action takes place in 1970, but Vietnam references are conspicuously absent), Blood suffers from abusive close-ups, repetitive fight sequences and uninspired demon design. The French director Chris Nahon (adapting Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s animated short film of the same name) strains to connect low budget and high ambition, but his talent for atmosphere is repeatedly undermined by Chris Chow’s incoherent script. Grade: D+

Cheri (2009) **½ It’s perhaps inevitable that the film becomes something of a story about what happens to beautiful Hollywood stars. Michelle Pfeiffer is now 51, and her success has largely rested on a combination of extraordinary looks and an underlying fragility that dilutes the threat that great beauty can bring with it. No matter the role, with her watery eyes and slender limbs, she often seems on the verge of breaking. She can seem as brittle as a twig and just as easy to snap. At other times, you see the steeliness that comes with any sustained and successful movie career. In Chéri you see the frailty and the strength, yet you rarely experience either with the depth of feeling you might because of the palpable uneasiness surrounding her performance. Grade: C

The Elephant King (2008) **½ There is in fact an elephant in The Elephant King, but his keepers are far from royal. Some time ago a scruffy bon vivant named Jake (Jonno Roberts) bilked his university for a travel grant to Thailand, and now he runs around spending the money on booze, drugs, women and a shabby crash pad. Oliver (Tate Ellington), his depressed, introverted brother, has joined Jake in Chiang Mai and quickly comes alive to the slacker expat lifestyle. You know you’re in for a cautionary tale when two fun-loving dudes buy a baby elephant on a drunken whim, install him by a motel pool full of empty beer bottles and show only mild concern when the dung starts piling up. Written and directed by Seth Grossman, The Elephant King tells a colorful if conventional tale of dysfunctional Americans abroad. Grade: C

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) **½ The creative people behind the cretinous Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the second blockbuster inspired by the popular Hasbro toys, have segmented their demographic into four discrete categories: 1. Young teenage boys who still play with Transformer toys (or keep them under the bed). 2. Older teenage boys who identify with the professional doofus Shia LaBeouf. 3. Somewhat older teenage boys who would like to play with the professional hottie Megan Fox. 4. Boys of all ages who think it would be cool to go to war and run around the desert shooting guns. Of course, viewers can embrace several categories at once; say, those who collect toys and liked Mr. LaBeouf in the last Indiana Jones movie. Or those who fantasize about having sex with Ms. Fox while shooting guns, a vision that distills the auteurist ambitions and popular appeal of the movie’s director, Michael Bay. And make no mistake: Mr. Bay is an auteur. His signature adorns every image in his movies, as conspicuously as that of Lars von Trier, and every single one is inscribed with a specific worldview and moral sensibility. Mr. Bay’s subject — overwhelming violent conquest — is as blatant and consistent as his cluttered mise-en-scène. Grade: C

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Texas-OU and other hits

Just to keep the record straight, I am a diehard Texas Longhorn supporter, having graduated from UT-Austin way back when with a journalism degree, spending a large part of my time there on the sports staff of the Daily Texan. Then, when I came to Dallas to work for UPI, I used to spend many pleasing moments on the telephone with then Texas football coach Darrell Royal when he called in his ballot for UPI's weekly coaches football poll.

So, having said that, my feelings from watching yesterday's Texas-OU contest are:

  • Overall, a rather boring game.
  • I didn't get the feeling that Texas defeated OU, only that the Longhorns were ahead when time ran out.
  • Keeping OU to a minus 16 yards rushing was an astounding achievement and probably contributed more to the final score than any other factor.
  • Colt McCoy's chances of winning the Heisman Trophy are zero.
  • I salute the Oklahoma brain trust that came up with the defensive game plan and the OU athletes that executed that plan.
Having been confined to a hospital bed for the last week (possibly more on that later), I have had the opportunity to watch more sports than I would have otherwise. Some observations:

  • Neither Florida nor Tim Tebow impressed me that much yesterday and I agree with the AP for putting Alabama at the top of its poll. Right now I consider the race for the Heisman wide open with no clear leader.
  • Alabama looked efficient, but really not that dominant against South Carolina. It did not come across as a great college football team, only as the best one out there right now.
  • Last night's Yankees-Angels baseball game was a classic thriller. If New York can win one in California, which it should, this series should be over in six games.
  • I'll give you Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, because after watching today's Saints-Giants game, I'll take Drew Brees as my starting quarterback any day.

The case for public health insurance

It appears Congress is going to pass some kind of health care reform legislation. The only question is whether the final plan will be more closely aligned to the legislation pending in the House of Representatives, which includes a public option, or the one in the Senate that does not. I have always believed that any meaningful reform bill must contain a public option, but not be dominated by it. By that I mean the option should only be available to the unemployed or for those working for small companies that don't provide health insurance to their employees. In that way, public options are not in direct competition with private insurers but would still work to keep overall costs down.

The New York Times has a superb editorial today that discusses this idea in more depth. It is worth reading for anyone who wants to engage in a sensible, intelligent, non-partisan debate on the subject of health care reform.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A couple of random weight loss, baseball observations (and I already know the topics are not related)

I don't know about you, but I am constantly bombarded about weight-loss programs. Most of them wind up in my spam e-mail box, which is where they belong, but weight-loss advertisements seem to proliferate on television, radio, newspapers, magazines. I wouldn't be that surprised if one of them snuck through on my I-Pod.

I am also overly sensitive about the subject because, frankly, and I am overweight and could stand to lose a pound or two or a couple hundred here and there. Regardless, I am suspicious about all the come ons.

Well, I found one that works. I am not making this up because I have outside authorities who can confirm this -- I lost 16 pounds in less than 24 hours yesterday and today. Can't say too much more about it except that most of this weight wound up in a series of plastic jars that was disposed off by trained Hasmat specialists. Ooops! Excuse me -- I've got to rid myself of some more pounds right now. Back in a second.

OK, better now, which means I can concentrate on baseball. It may not turn out that way, but the upcoming American League series between the Yankees and the Angels has the potential to be one of the best in baseball's history. The Yankees have the more powerful lineup, while the Angels have a more proficient one (I can't remember ever seeing a team that could start nine .300 hitters). Where the Yankees have the edge is in post-season experience and their bullpen, so I'm going with the Yankees to win a thrilling series.

I like the Phillies to win the National League, although I have some concerns about Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels. As I understand it now, Hamels will start Game 1 for Philadelphia, so my actual pick to represent the NL in the World Series is the team that wins Game 1 of the Phillies-Dodgers playoffs. I have heard that Philadelphia is shielding the world from the fact that some nagging injury is bothering Hamels. If that is true and Hamels is not at full strength, it's going to be up to the rest of the Phillies lineup to step it up. They proved they could do it in their series against the Rockies and Philadelphia has the grit to win a game Hamels pitches even if he is not at 100 percent. Whether they will do it is another matter. That's why I'm convinced Game 1 will tell the story of this matchup.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Adoration (2009) ****½ In Adoration, a profound and provocative exploration of cultural inheritance, communications technology and the roots and morality of terrorism, the Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan nimbly wades into an ideological minefield without detonating an explosion. Its story of a high school class assignment that becomes a minor cause célèbre is a rigorously structured variant of the everything-is-connected-to-everything school of filmmaking that has produced movies like Babel and Crash. But unlike those movies, Adoration, Mr. Egoyan’s finest film since The Sweet Hereafter (1997), doesn’t strain to maintain a pretense of naturalism. In every scene you feel the controlling hand of Mr. Egoyan who wrote, produced and directed it. Grade: A

American Violet (2009) **½ Near the beginning of American Violet, when Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie), a feisty 24-year-old African-American woman, is arrested, handcuffed and roughly dragged by the police from the diner where she works, your heart sinks. We have already watched a police task force conduct a military-style drug raid on Arlington Springs, the housing project in Melody, Texas, where she lives with her mother, Alma (Alfre Woodard), and four children. You grit your teeth in expectation of more cruelty to come. Thrown into a jail cell with three other women, Dee is stunned to learn she is being charged not for the hundreds of dollars in parking tickets that she owes but with distributing narcotics in a school zone. Although she is not carrying drugs and none are found in her home, the prosecution claims to have a witness. Dee’s court-appointed lawyer urges her to take a plea bargain and agree to a 10-year suspended sentence with a small fine, rather than risk serving a 16- to 25-year prison term. When Dee hotly refuses, even her mother thinks she is a fool. American Violet, which is based on real events that took place in late 2000, has the quasi-documentary feel of a well-made television drama. Directed by Tim Disney from a screenplay written by its producer, Bill Haney, the film is beautifully acted by Ms. Beharie, whose high-strung character is no angel. Grade: C

Drag Me to Hell (2009) **** At a time when horror is defined by limp Japanese retreads or punishing exercises in pure sadism, Drag Me to Hell has a tonic playfulness that’s unabashedly retro, an indulgent return to Mr. Raimi’s goofy, gooey roots. More jolting and juicy than the typical PG-13 offering, the movie has a perfunctory plot that centers on Christine (Alison Lohman), a tenderhearted loan officer at a California bank. Swift and sure, Drag Me to Hell unfurls in vertiginous, comic-book frames, like a long-lost issue of Tales From the Crypt. Neither small humans nor smaller animals are exempt from the carnage, which is orchestrated (by Mr. Raimi and his screenwriting sibling, Ivan) to recall memorable moments in horror-movie history. Grade: A-

Every Little Step (2009) **** Watching Every Little Step, a documentary by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, is a bit like walking through a hall of mirrors. Life imitates art, art reflects life, and after a while the distinctions threaten, quite pleasantly, to blur altogether. The film follows a group of mostly young dancers and singers auditioning for parts in the recent Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, a musical which is itself built around the auditions of 17 mostly young Broadway-besotted dancers and singers. The premise of Every Little Step is no less inspired for seeming so simple and obvious, and it pays tribute to the durability and continued relevance of A Chorus Line, which opened in New York in 1975, before many of the performers in the movie were born. Grade: A-

Land of the Lost (2009) ** The only marginally interesting, if unsurprising, thing about the pricey movie spinoff of the junky children’s television show Land of the Lost is that a lot of money has been spent on yet another cultural throwaway. (Never say that Hollywood doesn’t know how to recycle.) Although the original Sid and Marty Krofft series, which ran from 1974 to 1976, doubtless still has its fans, because, well, some people are happy to watch whatever pops up on their televisions, I suspect that a fair share also like to light up before tripping down that particular nostalgic byway. Alas, only popcorn and soda were served at the screening I attended. Not that I didn’t sometimes laugh anyway. It’s hard not to laugh when Will Ferrell, who can be very funny when given something actually funny to do, takes off his shirt to brandish his flabby-pack, a ritual unveiling now apparently written into all his contracts. It’s a cheap gag, certainly cheaper than the digital dinosaurs that stomp through a few scenes (and less embarrassing than watching him plug the movie’s marketing partner, Subway). But it’s effective largely because Mr. Ferrell’s version of comedy’s familiar child-man always skews more creepy than sentimental. Grade: C-

The Proposal (2009) **½ Blame the heels. In her new movie, The Proposal, Sandra Bullock, playing a Type A (rhymes with) witch, totters around in a pair of exquisite high heels, the kind that elongate the legs and give a woman’s derrière the gentle backward thrust familiar from fertility figurines. The character, a no-nonsense, no-smiling publishing executive, otherwise favors an aerodynamic look (pencil skirts and ponytails), but the heels betray her. They throw a curve into her straight line and force her to tilt, sway and wobble. She might be the mistress — the harsh and exacting mistress — of her universe, but she’s clearly been prepped for a fall. Like most Hollywood romantic comedies these days, The Proposal is all about bringing a woman to her knees, quite literally in this case. The simple premise is partly telegraphed in the advertising tag line, "Here comes the bribe," which evokes wedding bells and desperation. Grade: C

Friday, October 9, 2009

Florida at LSU: Another reason never to adopt a college football playoff system

If college football had a postseason playoff in place, ya think Florida coach Urban Meyer would approach tomorrow night's game against LSU differently than he is now. For one thing, I guarantee you Florida quarterback Tim Tebow would not play -- at all, not even a down. Florida would be thinking "Look, we're going to get another shot at 'em after the season is over. Why risk everything now?"

It has been said many times before, but the beauty of the college football season is that every game matters. Both Florida and L.S.U. want to win this game because a loss severely hampers, if it doesn't cripple, the loser's national championships hopes (especially with an undefeated Alabama team waiting in the wings). If a playoff system were in effect, this game wouldn't be that important all -- the objective would be not to lose by too lopsided a score.

It's games like this that make me love college football. As hoped, my South Florida correspondent came through with an advance look at this matchup:

LSU has little offense, while Florida's offense is not anything close to its championship caliber of last year. This means that the game will be decided on the better defensive performance (a typical SEC scenario).

Tebow's injury is not going to be a major factor. If he doesn't play then Florida will insert Brantley at QB. He is a very solid junior who plays more like a decent Big 12 quarterback. Don't expect the running game to suffer because Florida has a couple of burners in the backfield who will replace Tebow's skills and a great offensive line. Even if Tebow plays he will not have practiced during the preceding two weeks. There will be a lot of rust and LSU will take advantage.

LSU is preparing for either quarterback. They are good enough to handle Tebow or Brantley. They are also going to key on the run since Florida does not have any quality wide receivers. However, this may be a mistake since the run emphasis will eventually open up the opportunity to go to a vertical passing game.

On the other side of the ball LSU has a mediocre offense. They have only faced one quality team all year -- Georgia -- and barely managed to put up 20 points. In fact, Georgia had them bottled up for most of the game and might of won if the referees hadn't blown a call late. It was their defense that kept them in the game. They have extraordinary speed and may be the fastest defense in all of college football. The line is also top notch.

Florida's defense is also quick and good. They return almost everyone from the unit that stifled Oklahoma in the BCS title game. The difference is that they are a bit banged up which creates a few soft spots. This doesn't get mentioned much since the media always focus on Tebow, but it is critical. However, Florida's special teams may be the best in country and could provide the edge for the Gators.

Don't overlook the home field advantage. It's almost impossible for a visitor to win in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night. This creates at least a touchdown advantage for the Tigers.

Here's the quick matchups:

Defensive Advantage: LSU (barely)
Offensive Advantage: Florida
Special Teams Advantage: Florida

Okay, it's prediction time: Florida 20, LSU 13. Florida's defense keeps them in the game and they get at least one score off a turnover. If Tebow doesn't start he may come off the bench to rally the team (is it a football game or a movie script?).

I'm also going with Florida, but I think it will be a lot closer game: The Gators by 2.
In other contests:
Alabama by 6 over Mississippi
Auburn by 2 over Arkansas
BYU by 15 over UNLV
Florida State by 2 over Georgia Tech
Iowa by 10 over Michigan
Kansas by 16 over Iowa State
Miami, Fla. by 32 over Florida A&M
Ohio State by 14 over Wisconsin
Oklahoma by 20 over Baylor
Oklahoma State by 2 over Texas A&M
Oregon by 7 over UCLA
Penn State by 30 over Eastern Illinois
South Carolina by 9 over Kentucky
TCU by 2 over Air Force
Texas by 21 over Colorado
Virginia Tech by 10 over Boston College

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Slumming around

Have you ever been hanging out with the same old crowd when suddenly a fresh, new face burst onto the scene? This new person brings a new form of energy, a wisp of danger, the very real sense of excitement to an existence that needed to be invigorated. You find yourself capitulating to the new person's will almost immediately.

A year later, you're still hanging out with the same old crowd when someone asks you if had you had met anyone new and interesting lately. "Not really," you reply. "You know, the same old same old." Suddenly you feel a twang of guilt because there was that one brief tropical storm that blew through a year earlier, but while it was a nice change of pace, it turned out to be something rather unsubstantial -- a fresh, sparkling coat of paint on what turned out to be a shallow package.

I've been having those same kind of feelings about the movie Slumdog Millionaire. It appeared suddenly out of the east, caught us all up in its tidal wave, blew through, picked up a slew of Oscars and left, not really altering the landscape all that much.

I was recently reviewing the handful of films that I thought were not only the best of last year but films that will be remembered fondly long into the next decade -- films like The Visitor, Frozen River, Happy Go Lucky, Milk, Wendy and Lucy, Let the Right One In, I've Loved You So Long, The Wrestler, and, yes, even The Dark Knight. And in the back of my mind was this nagging suspicion I was leaving out a film that belonged in that list. When I realized the film I was forgetting was Slumdog Millionaire, I took another careful look at it and thought, "No, it really doesn't belong on that list."

Slumdog caught us all by surprise, but like any light that shines too brightly at the beginning, its dazzle has faded rapidly. In about five years -- perhaps even less -- it won't even be remembered as one of the 10 best films of 2008, let alone the best.

The game's a killer

Reason 434,628 I don't play golf.

SI makes Alabama top seed; OU out of tourney for now

I mentioned last week that Sports Illustrated is pursuing the folly of a 16-team college football playoff and each week will be presenting a bracket reflecting how the tournament would be shaped if the season ended at that time.

So, if the season ended after last weekend's games, SI would elevate Alabama over Florida as the No. 1 seed. And Oklahoma, which suffered its second defeat of the season last Saturday, would be excluded from the 16-team field. (I fully expect the Sooners to be back in securely by the time the season actually does end).

At any rate, here's the mag's tournament seedings after last weekend's games:

(1) Alabama vs. (16) Nebraska
(8) Cincinnati vs. (9) TCU
(5) Virginia Tech vs. (12) Iowa
(4) LSU vs. (13) Oregon

(3) Texas vs. (14) Auburn
(6) Boise State vs. (11) Miami
(7) USC vs. (10) Ohio State
(2) Florida vs. (15) Oklahoma State

By the way, is there going to be a more significant regular season game played this year other than Saturday night's Florida at LSU battle? I'm hoping our South Florida correspondent can provide us with some much needed insight into this one.

A tragedy of Shakespearian proportions

I like Don Hill. I have ever since I got to know him beginning over eight years ago now. I always will like him. And the fact that a jury found him guilty earlier today ... or was it yesterday, now ... of some sort of public corruption doesn't alter my feelings about him one bit.

Don Hill is not a bad guy. Doesn't even come close. Now, someone who strikes or in some other way injures a defenseless child or a woman will be writ in large script in my black book of eternal damnation. But, c'mon, this is politics here and not even politics on a grand crooked scale like Watergate, Iran-Contra, Teapot Dome, Tammany Hall, New Orleans, Detroit.

I'm not excusing Hill or absolving him of any blame. Don Hill came across to me as a man who lived from paycheck to paycheck, not really ever getting ahead, one of the very few whose election to the Dallas City Council was an advancement in pay grade and who perhaps saw the opportunity to get a better brand of used car and took it. And even with that, I'm not convinced he's convinced he did anything wrong.

"I know in my heart that I didn't have a corrupt intent in anything I did," Hill told Gromer Jeffers Jr. of the Dallas Morning News after the verdict was announced. "I know the things that we did, my wife and I ... all we wanted to do is the very best for the citizens of Dallas, and we were doing it at great sacrifice."

Dallas has a municipal political structure that does not allow for leaders to develop. Take a look around you and count the real leaders in Dallas politics. You won't find any. Da Mayor likes to run things, but being in charge and being a leader are two entirely different things. In fact, the closest thing we have to a leader at City Hall is not even an elected official ... it's City Manager Mary Suhm. She has united normally warring political factions unlike any predecessor I can think of and when she raises her sword in the air and commands "Follow me," her employees will be right behind her. They may chafe at her brusque style now and then, but when all is said and done, May Suhm is the person you want commanding the troops in the field as well as dealing with the generals that ordered those troops there.

Hill, however, was emerging as a leader the black community of Dallas desperately needed and still needs. Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway is trying to fill that void, but Caraway only wants to make the black community a much-needed adjunct of the white power structure and not a separate voice with its own concerns, cultures and passions, which is what Hill wanted and what would be in the best interests of the black community.

When I was the public information officer for the City of Dallas, I wrote, among other things, a number of speeches for City Councilman Ed Oakley. Once, when Hill needed a speech written for a special Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event, Oakley recommended me for the task. Hill sent me an e-mail, describing the event, what he wanted to accomplish and I wrote a speech for him. After the event, he sent me another e-mail saying it had been the most well-received speech he had ever given and asked me to do another one for another unrelated event, possibly even on the need for additional public housing. This relationship went on for a couple of months when one day I received an e-mail from Hill asking me if I was available for lunch. I told him I was and would meet him in his office at 11:30 a.m. I walked in at the appointed time, he took one look at me and said "What do you want?" I mentioned the lunch he had proposed. "But .... but .... but ...," he stammered. "You're white!" It was one of the nicest compliments I had ever received.

But I formed my greatest admiration for Hill watching him tackle difficult, divisive issues that came before the City Council. Unlike most of his colleagues, who only want to be on the winning side of any close vote, all Hill cared about was that he was on the right side and that usually meant the compassionate side. More than anyone else I've seen on the City Council, Don Hill gave a voice to all those who had no voice in city government.

And now these voices are silent once again and that's the greatest tragedy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009) ***½ You have to wonder about a movie called Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Is the redundancy in the title self-mocking or just bluntly declarative? It’s a question that lingers around the movie itself, which is either an affectionate chronicle of a Canadian heavy metal band that never quite made it or else a deadpan mockery of the same band. But there is also a kind of sincerity that can seem to the jaded eye like self-parody, and the earnest, heartfelt striving of the two men at the center of Anvil, Robb Reiner and Steve "Lips" Kudlow, makes the band’s story more touching than comical. Mockery would be too easy and too mean, and the success of Anvil! The Story of Anvil lies in its ability to make you care about an enterprise you might initially have been inclined to laugh at. Mr. Reiner and Mr. Kudlow may not quite merit full-metal glory, but they don’t deserve oblivion either, and Anvil! The Story of Anvil makes both a case and a place for their band. Grade B+

My Life in Ruins (2009) **½ My Life in Ruins, Nia Vardalos’s first movie in five years, might as well be titled How Georgia Got Her Kefi Back — Georgia being Ms. Vardalos’s character, a Greek-American tour guide in the old country, and kefi being the Greek word for joy, high spirits, life force, whatever. Directed by Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality, Grumpy Old Men) from a screenplay by Mike Reiss that is larded with stale 1970s-style sitcom humor, My Life in Ruins has none of the homey authenticity of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (which Ms. Vardalos wrote). Seven years after her breakthrough, Ms. Vardalos may be slimmer and more glamorous, but she seems less real. This move is not likely to spur much tourism to Greece. The sights, though impressive, are not photographed interestingly, and the citizens of the host country are less than welcoming. Grade: C

Year One (2009) **** "Comedy," Jerry Lewis or some other professional wisenheimer once said, "is a man in trouble." In Harold Ramis’s Year One, a thoroughly, sometimes gaggingly broad and sly conceptual laugh-in laced-with-jokes — about God, poop, circumcision, female underarm hair and the state of Israel — comedy is two men dressed in animal skins and neck deep in shtick. Set in what looks like a succession of B-movie studio sets, the film brings to mind a Hope and Crosby road movie, though only if Bob and Bing, after studying the Bible as children and reading Nietzsche as adults, were grappling with issues of faith. Filling Hope and Crosby’s clown shoes nicely in Year One are Jack Black and Michael Cera as Paleolithic tribesmen. Grade: A-

Friday, October 2, 2009

This week's major college football matchups

Here's one of my favorite pieces of trivia: Between 1985 and 1987, Oklahoma only lost three football games and all three were to the University of Miami. In 1985, OU was ranked No. 3 in the country and Miami was unranked when the two teams met in Norman. In 1986 and 1987, the No. 1 Sooners lost to the No. 2 Hurricanes in Miami.

Tomorrow night these two teams meet again to determine which will remain in contention for this year's national championship. It's the top game of the weekend. Both have one loss on their record. OU's was the most shocking, a season-opening defeat at the ends of BYU in a game that saw defending Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford leave the game with a shoulder injury. He hasn't played since and won't play tomorrow. No matter. His replacement, Landry Jones, has looked spectacular, albeit against the likes of Idaho and Tulsa.

Miami began the season as a spoiler, first defeating 18th ranked Florida State and then Mo. 14 Georgia Tech. Last week, however, Virginia Tech blew out the Hurricanes 31-7 with a miserly defense that suffocated Hurricane quarterback Jacory Harris.

As good as Tech's defense is, OU's is better and that's the reason I'm picking the Sooners to win by 8, even though the game is being played in Miami.

Southern California at California. Here is how the Pac-10 has shaken out the last couple of years. USC loses a conference game it probably shouldn't have lost and then goes on to dominate the rest of the way, winding up representing the conference one more time in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans have already lost that game they shouldn't have, against Washington a couple of weeks ago. So they should cruise now, right? Perhaps, but I'm not so sure that awful weight room injury to running back Stafon Johnson doesn't prove to be a serious distraction.

Two weeks ago, California's running back Jahvid Best was considered the major Heisman competition for Florida's Tim Tebow. Then Oregon held him to 55 yards on 16 carries last week in a game the Ducks dominated 42-3 and Best's Heisman hopes ended. I'm not sure this USC team is as good as those previous teams that dominated the conference following a loss, but I do think they are probably five points better than Cal.

Louisiana State at Georgia. So far this season, five teams ranked among the Top 5 at one time or another lost. LSU seems to be the perfect candidate to be No. 6. Why? Most people think it will be because L.S.U is looking past this game to next week's matchup with Florida. C'mon. How can any SEC team look past Georgia?

I think the reason is more that L.S.U. may be the most overranked team in the country right now. The Bengals did beat South Carolina, but they looked terribly pedestrian last week against Mississippi State when they rushed for all of 30 yards total and scored on an interception return and a punt return. And Georgia has a much better defense than Mississippi State's as well as a better offense, built around receiver A.G. Green (who is averaging 107 yards a game to lead the league) and steadily improving quarterback Joe Cox. This game is going to be close all the way, but I'm picking the Bulldogs by 1.

Alabama by 11 over Kentucky
Arkansas by 1 over Texas A&M
Cincinnati by 28 over Miami, Ohio
Florida State by 1 over Boston College
Georgia Tech by 5 over Mississippi State
Michigan State by 4 over Michigan
Mississippi by 3 over Vanderbilt
North Carolina by 15 over Virgina
Notre Dame by 10 over Washington
Ohio State by 17 over Indiana
Penn by 9 over Dartmouth
Penn State by 15 over Illinois
South Florida by 15 over Syracuse
Stanford by 3 over U.C.L.A.
Tennessee by 4 over Auburn
Virginia Tech by 24 over Duke
Wisconsin by 5 over Minnesota

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time to refocus the Polanski arguments

When Academy-Award winning director Roman Polanski was arrested Saturday in Zurich you would have thought a freedom-loving patriot had been unfairly detained for speaking out against a totalitarian political regime.

Petitions for free Polanski were circulated and signed by people in the entertainment community whose work I greatly admire.

Here's the deal, however. Polanski confessed to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 after plying her with Quaaludes and champagne. Then, when a plea bargain he thought was in place that would have kept him out of jail began to fall apart, he went on the lamb and fled the country. There is a warrant out for his arrest. Roman Polanski, the adult, preyed on a child and I don't care how many years have passed since that happened or how many fine films he has made in the interim, he must still be held accountable for this crime to which he confessed.

Why SI's college playoff system will never--ever--see the light of day

It is economically untenable for the overwhelming majority of university and college presidents/athletic directors.

The playoffs would add 15 post-season games to the college schedule, the effect of which would be to kill the current bowl system. Now there are those Utopians who dream you can incorporate the current bowl structure into a playoff system; the problem with that argument is that it's not the bowl structure that needs to be preserved, it's the bowl games themselves.

I can see SMU President Gerald R. Turner having fits about such a playoff system. SMU head football coach June Jones is not, right now, striving to make the Mustangs one of the top 16 teams in the country that could make a playoff; he just wants to get them bowl eligible and into a bowl game. That would be a huge plus for this team. Do you think he's gong to favor a plan that kills his chances of doing that? That will really help his recruiting efforts.

You could try to keep many of the current bowl games going along with the playoff games, but that would mean those bowl games are to college football what the post-season NIT is to college basketball: completely irrelevant. And where would the money come from for these bowl games with television revenues being diverted solely to the playoffs?

Here is the only way I can see a playoff plan like SI's working: Allow all the teams that don't make the playoffs the opportunity to schedule two additional games of their own that same season. Actually, I have been mulling various scenarios for this around in my head and you could really have fun and spark regional interest in pair of games played on a home-and-home basis with the outcome decided by total points of the two games.

Plus these extra two games would answer the objections of the teams who don't make the playoffs by giving them the opportunity to generate revenue; obviously not as much as a playoff team would make but at least it's directly generated revenue that would be better than the totally unsatisfactory "spread-the-wealth-among-conference-teams" that current playoff proponents are suggesting would satisfy those schools not among the Top 16.

But I don't think those proposing a college football playoff care one whit about the 100+ teams that don't make the final 16, only the handful that do. And as long as that's the case, you're never going to get a playoff.

I will continue to update SI's ongoing bracket as the year progresses. I mean, what harm can that do and, besides, it makes for a nice diversion from reality.