Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Microwaves and Dancing

I’m not really a simple person, if such a thing truly exists. I am introspective, and by turns excitable, melancholy, nostalgic, thoughtful and plenty of other things. I enjoy the little things, or I try to, but I’m also a big picture guy. I know that when I’m unhappy, the thing that helps most is God’s reassurance that He’s always with me.

But also, in the idea that all good things are from above, I’ve found brief interludes of dancing, or rather my restricted parody of dancing, to be very enjoyable, particularly in that interminable matter or minutes or seconds while waiting for the microwave to go off.

I use our microwave plenty, in the odd-but-typical human fashion. It’s routine, drudgery, like a lot of things, but it’s also an opportunity. When work has been especially boring and not fulfilling, when things don’t go as I’d hope they would, when I don’t feel content, when I think for the millionth time what I’d do if I had a bunch of money or where I’d travel if I had time and said money, when the Royals bleepin’ $11 million dollar middle reliever (Ol’ Gil) gives up a home run in a tie game (and it’s September and I’ve yet to find something better to do than watch it), sometimes, perhaps ridiculously, the soul feels like moving a bit.

Now, the word “dancing” should be put in quotes in this context, as my movements are quite limited, like I’m balancing a cup of water on my head, or emulating my athletic hero Steve Young, who joked about dancing in a chair (all upper body). In most situations, I’m not a big dancing fan. But it’s the understated dancing that fits me. It’s about the act, not the production.

And it’s usually to equally ridiculous songs, really anything with a good beat, like if you were asked to play music that sounded optimistic. Lloyd Price’s “Personality,” that bouncy song from the NFL commercial with all the personalized Drew Brees jerseys, is a good fit. Same for Merle Haggard’s classic “Rainbow Stew,” a song synonymous with Ben Herrold among my friends. Shooter Jennings’ “Solid Country Gold.” Maybe even some Statler Brothers. And, of course, my wonderful college fight songs. Sometimes I play the songs on the laptop, sometimes I sing my own music, sometimes it’s all in my head.

I heard a song called “Let Us Love,” on the radio the other day, and today, by some band called Needtobreathe (apparently a space bar was broken at some point). I thought to myself, now that’s good microwave dancing music. It just rolls. Nice words, too, as a bonus.

So, if you find yourself with 45 seconds (slice of pizza), 2:20 (hot chocolate) or 4-5 minutes (frozen vegetables, steaming in the bag) to kill, move the hips a bit and get the most out of your varying times with some "dancing," to the irritation of Baptists. Live life all out, and have some fun. No, I'm not always in a dancing mood, in fact often I'm not; but remember, the good things are from above, and He's always with you (Isaiah 41).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Looking at 21 straight regular season noncon wins

Missouri (4-0) wrapped up the nonconference portion of its schedule by rolling to a 51-13 win over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday. The Tigers wasted no time ensuring this game would need none of the previous week’s last-minute heroics, scoring on a fumble return for a touchdown eight seconds into the game. It was the fastest opening Tiger score in coach Gary Pinkel’s 10 years at Mizzou, and it may be the fastest Missouri score ever.

By the end of the first quarter Missouri led 21-0. By halftime it was 28-3, and it was basically over. It was the Tigers’ 21st straight regular season nonconference win.

This streak dates back to a 45-35 loss to New Mexico in the 2005 home opener. It’s largely peppered with wins against weaker competition, but it is admirable to go that many games without a hiccup loss to an inferior team.

Every year since 2006, Missouri has picked up a win against both a Football Championship Subdivision team and a team from the Mid-American Conference. From 2007 through 2010, each season has also included a win over Illinois, a team that has been competitive at times but largely disappointing in recent years.

A look at the location of these 21 straight nonconference wins, as well as the conference affiliation of these opponents, shows a schedule built for success and confidence-building. Of these 21 games, 14 have been at home, three were on the road and four were at neutral sites. Five came against FCS teams, five came against teams from the MAC, four against the Big Ten (all against Illinois), two against Mountain West Conference teams, two against Southeastern Conference competition (a home-and-home series with Mississippi) and one game against a Sun Belt team.

There have been a few decent wins to write home about during this time. The wild 40-34 win in 2007 against an Illinois team that would play in the Rose Bowl that year launched Missouri on its historic 12-2 season. Missouri also won at Mississippi that year, even though Ole Miss didn’t win a single SEC game that year. Last year’s win at Nevada was impressive, especially after the Wolf Pack won eight straight after the Tigers beat them.

For the most part, the August and September nonconference challenges have been light, with each 4-0 start rousing fan interest, leaving them to wonder whether they had something special or dolled-up mediocrity. Starting in 2006, the year Missouri began this run of 4-0 starts, the Tigers have taken their first loss in their third, second, second and first Big 12 Conference game. Reality has been swift in arriving. Of course, Missouri has rallied after these first losses to win the Big 12 North in 2007 and 2008, going 4-4, 7-1, 5-3, and 4-4 in Big 12 play in these four seasons.

Now Missouri has a bye week before conference play begins against Colorado on Oct. 9 at Faurot Field. The game will ease Missouri into conference play before a difficult four-game stretch begins.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Moe bails out the Tigers

As the final minutes wound down in Missouri’s game with San Diego State last Saturday, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw an interception for the second straight drive, a mixture of panic and resignation to defeat filled Faurot Field.

After that second pick, the Aztecs had the ball up 24-20 with 1:47 remaining. Thousands and thousands of Tiger fans headed for the exits, no doubt angry that Missouri had looked past the Aztecs. Fortunately, Missouri had two timeouts left, kept the Aztecs out of the end zone, and San Digeo State punted and Missouri took over at its own 12-yard line with 1:22 to play.

Then receiver T.J. Moe provided the Tigers with one of the biggest bailouts in Missouri football history. Moe caught a pass in the left flat, used a sensational juke move to avoid a defender, and then benefited from a great downfield block by receiver Jerrell Jackson to get free. Moe raced down the field for a 68-yard touchdown with 52 seconds remaining.

The Missouri sideline was a mass of uniforms jumping up and down. Thousands and thousands of fans’ arms raised in triumph. The cannon in the north end zone boomed. Missouri stopped the Aztecs desperate final drive, and the Tigers were 3-0.

It wasn’t quite as last-second as Anthony Carter’s long touchdown catch-and-run in 1979 as time expired to avoid a tie with Indiana. And it didn’t have the implications of Georgia’s Lindsay Scott pulling off a last-minute 92-yard touchdown reception in 1980 to keep the Bulldogs’ national title hopes alive, during which legendary Georgia announcer Larry Munson’s call was famously, “Run Lindsay! …Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!”

But it was Missouri’s first final-minute, game-winning touchdown since the classic 1976 win at Ohio State and the first such play at home since the 1958 win over Idaho. It was one of the more thrilling finishes in the 440 games Missouri has played at Faurot.

It was also a lesson in not giving up on one’s team. I get it when the team is down 30 with three minutes left, but when the Tigers of old Mizzou are down by four and have a couple of timeouts, don’t leave the stadium or turn off the radio or TV. In six of Missouri’s last eight wins against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, the Tigers have trailed in the second half.

Moe’s touchdown sparked two different, fair reactions. The glass-half-full perspective says Missouri (No. 24 in the Coaches Poll) is still unbeaten and was able to overcome a difficult situation to pull out the win. Lessons can be learned. The glass-half-empty view says this team struggled mightily and maybe should have lost to a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1998.

Next week, Missouri finishes up its nonconference schedule against Miami (Ohio). Miami (Ohio) was ranked near the bottom of all FBS teams in preseason publications, so the game gives Missouri another chance to show it won't look past overmatched opponents. Expect a big Missouri win.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Josey, scheduling cowardice and the Aztecs

The Missouri Tigers opened the 85th season of play at Memorial Stadium on Saturday evening against McNeese State, a team from the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision. It was a gorgeous, cloudless Missouri September evening as the Tigers rolled to a 50-6 win.

Yes, only the last 15 years have regularly included night games (the first night game was in 1992 with portable lights; permanent lights were installed before the 1996 season), but the game under the lights felt like the right way to kick off another season at the natural bowl that is Memorial Stadium. (The playing surface is named Faurot Field, often used to refer to the entire facility.)

Under the lights and twilight, everything seems more intense, more colorful, faster.

Adding to that speed was Henry Josey, Mizzou’s freshman running back. Josey was a wonderful surprise, running for 112 yards and three touchdowns on seven carries. Josey was the first Mizzou freshman to run for 100 yards in a game since Corby Jones in 1995.

The problem was the Tigers were playing McNeese State, so we can’t get too carried away over the results. It was certainly encouraging to see Josey run all over and the defense look suffocating and receiver T.J. Moe rack up catches, but Missouri was largely overwhelming McNeese State with its athleticism.

The teams aren’t on the same level, given that Missouri, as a Football Bowl Subdivision team, is allowed to give nearly three times as many full scholarships as FCS schools. However, a stunning five FBS teams have lost to FCS schools in the season’s first two weeks, so credit Missouri for taking care of business in such convincing fashion.

I know playing FCS schools is part of college football, but the purpose of the nonconference schedule should be to get the team ready for conference play, and I’m not sure that this game with McNeese State did anything to help with that.

To be fair, Missouri no doubt scheduled its series with Illinois thinking the Illini would provide a season-opening test, but they have done nothing of the sort, save the wild 2007 game.

This Saturday, in another 6 p.m. home game (available on pay-per-view), Missouri will get more of a challenge when they face San Diego State, a middle-tier team in the very respectable Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs went 4-8 last year, but generated some preseason buzz as a team on the rise. They also likely have the most talented receiving corps in the MWC.

History is on Missouri’s side, as the Tigers have won 19 straight regular-season nonconference games. The last loss was to New Mexico, another MWC team, in my first home game as an MU student. The Aztecs have lost 15 straight road games to BCS conference schools, with the last win coming against another Big 12 school, Kansas.

Mizzou is again a strong favorite, but this should be a reasonable test for the Tigers. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Renewing traditions, beating Illinois

There was a buzz in downtown St. Louis on Saturday for the season opener. It had little to do with the usual 50-50 fan split of true neutral site games, as Mizzou fans significantly outnumbered the Illini. This was to be expected, as poor Illini fans are staring at what will likely be another lost, losing season.

Instead, that downtown energy was supplied mostly by Tiger fans’ enthusiasm to return to football season. The temperature was noticeably cooler, and as Tiger fans walked to the Edward Jones Dome in the morning for the 11:30 game, there was a hint of crispness in the air.

Everywhere you looked, black and gold crawled the streets around the dome. The car I was riding in pulled up next to Mizzou basketball coach Mike Anderson, who shared a “Go Tigers!” It was a Mizzou kind of day.

The game itself threatened to be an anticlimactic end to four straight years of Missouri beating Illinois in St. Louis, during which the series was dubbed the Arch Rivalry. Large swatches of empty seats were visible on Saturday, and the announced attendance of 58,000 was well below capacity.

Instead, due both to some doldrums by the Tigers and an inspired effort by the Illini, Illinois led for much of the game. Illinois scored first, clawed for a 13-3 halftime lead, and even led the Tigers going into the fourth quarter, 13-10. Trailing a team like Illinois in the fourth was clearly not on the Tigers’ agenda.

However, Missouri completed its rally and won, 23-13. The offense had some hitches, dropped passes and off-target throws, but first games are often used to get the bugs out, especially when you have a tempo-based offense like Missouri’s spread.

Missouri’s defense smothered Illinois in the second half, holding the Illini to just 85 yards and four first downs in the half as the Tigers slowly came back.

Holding Illinois to 13 points and 281 yards of total offense was an encouraging sign. Yes, Illinois appears to be a bad offensive team, and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase looked especially poor, but credit must go to the Tiger defense for making Illinois look bad.

It was also survival on a bizarre day for Big 12 teams. As your Mizzou friends may have told you (roughly 50,000 times), Kansas lost to Football Championship Subdivision team North Dakota State by the humbling score of 6-3, surely causing Mark Mangino to chuckle. Oklahoma needed a late interception to survive 31-24 against Utah State. Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas had nearly four times as many rushing yards as quarterback Carson Coffman has passing yards in the Wildcats’ win over UCLA.

Next Saturday Missouri faces FCS team McNeese State at 6 p.m. at Faurot Field. The Tigers can learn from the Jayhawks' humiliation and put the Cowboys away early. McNeese State made the FCS playoffs last year, so they could be scrappy. If Missouri can avoid excessive turnovers, however, there's no reason the Tigers shouldn't blow out the cowboys.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mizzou's focus returns to the field

The Missouri Tigers roll into their season-opener against Illinois in St. Louis after a month of injuries and off-the-field issues. Both a player and a coach were stopped for driving while intoxicated. Receiver Jerrell Jackson, counted on to fill some of the void left by Danario Alexander’s graduation, broke his hand. Linebacker Munir Prince had a scary temporary paralysis injury, though he appears to be recovering well.

And then came the cherry on top, the indefinite suspension of talented running back Derrick Washington following sexual assault allegations against him.

The irritation here, besides losing a pretty good running back for who knows how long, was the stubborn refusal by all officials involved to comment on the situation, or even explain what was going on. Coach Gary Pinkel, Athletic Director Mike Alden, team spokesman Chad Moller and the Boone County prosecutor, all employed by taxpayer-funded institutions, all refused to talk when the tough questions started being asked, with some issuing statements and vague confirmations days later. Pinkel became visibly irritated when asked about the situation, as though the suspension of a starting running back 10 days before the season-opener should be swept under the rug.

Although Washington was since “permanently suspended” (nice gesture to keep his school paid for, but he’s done playing), let’s do what the Tigers need to do and move on to the next opponent, Illinois. I’m so glad we can glad we can talk about the games now, when the Tigers will take the field for old Mizzou.

Missouri has routinely beaten Illinois in St. Louis, winning all five games since the series began playing there in 2002. Illinois has been pretty awful in five years under coach Ron Zook, who is either derisively or affectionately known as the Zooker. Zook is 21-39 at Illinois, including 12-28 in conference play and 0-5 in neutral-site games such as this one. Zook took his team to the Rose Bowl following a nine-win 2007 campaign. Aside from that, he has four losing seasons and plenty of unfulfilled expectations, given his recruiting success. Sports Illustrated picked Illinois to finish 10th in the Big Ten this year.

So Missouri is a decided favorite against the Illini. The game looks like such a sure win that it gives me pause. The neutral site may help fire up the Illini, along with this being their last chance to beat Missouri in St. Louis for a while. Also, Illinois almost has to be improved over last year’s 3-9 debacle of a team.

Illinois is probably better off with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback than Juice Williams, who was occasionally brilliant but too erratic. Cornerback Terry Hawthorne and defensive lineman Clay Nurse give the Illinois defense some teeth.

Additionally, Mizzou’s injuries and off-the-field distractions can’t have helped the team’s preparations.

All that being said, I still think the Tigers will start the season with a win against Illinois. If Missouri plays close to as good as they can, they should have too much talent for Illinois.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Thursday, college football makes its grand return, with the bulk of the games coming up this weekend. In honor of this great occasion, and to give you something to watch across the country, here are three compelling storylines in the Big 12, and one in each of the 11 NCAA FBS conferences:

Big 12

1. Nebraska's going-away party?
As you may have heard (4.2 million times), next year Nebraska is going to the Big Ten, er Eleven... um, 12... the conference now known as the Big Ten. Nebraska is preseason top 10, and the Cornhusker State is buzzing. Critical will be finding a serviceable quarterback (duh) to go with some underrated skill players, a solid offensive line and the revived Blackshirt defense. The Huskers must replace Ndamukong Suh, but Jared Crick and Pierre Allen may be up to the task when added together. Last year, Nebraska could have scored a paltry 11 points every game and won eight games. The gave up three points or fewer FIVE TIMES, and only gave up more than 20 points ONCE. Ridiculous. Suh was great, but a staunch defensive core remains. They won 10 last year, but now Big Red fans are dreaming of going out with a conference title, perhaps a cataclysmic showdown with old rival Oklahoma is the Big 12 title game.

2. Can Stoops get the Sooner Schooner going again?
After more or less abusing the rest of the conference for the nine years from 2000-2008 (68-11 vs. conference opponents during those 10 years, 7 division titles (take that Texas!), 6 conference titles), the Sooners stumbled in 2009, going 5-3 in league play and losing five games overall. Sam Bradford's shoulder injury, courtesy of some very rough Mormons at BYU, certainly hurt the team. But you get the feeling Texas has nosed ahead of Oklahoma in their relentless battle to rule the South and, by extension these days, rule the conference. Texas has beaten Oklahoma four of the last five meetings. This follows Stoops' "Who's your daddy?" run of five straight against the Longhorns. With Texas' McCoy and Oklahoma's Bradford both gone, who takes charge now? Oklahoma can match and maybe beat anyone for talent, so is this the year they reassert themselves? The sign in the OU locker room says, "No excuses, win the Big 12." Those Okies probably won't be taking that sign down anytime soon. (Unless they change the league's name when Nebraska and Colorado leave.)

3. Somehow, Texas Tech becomes even more of a wild card
After the brilliant, pirate-loving, pass-happy Mike Leach was forced out after player abuse problems, the accomplished Tommy Tuberville took over. Tuberville had that undefeated season at Auburn, but he had a 5-7 season and (gasp) lost to Alabama, so the crazies at Auburn fired him. Now, will Tech keep passing like they're playing a video game? Probably not, but don't expect them to just turn their back on who they are. Tuberville may bring some balance, but I'd bet he'll play with the hand he's got and the type of players Leach has been recruiting. It's very difficult for me to project how good Tech will be. I have to think they'll score points. Detron Lewis, Alexander Torres, Baron Batch and their quarter back of the week (probably Taylor Potts, mostly) will take care of that. But it just seems like such a big transition. And what about the defense? You'd think Tuberville will make it better, but by how much? The temptation is to say they'll roll through their nonconference schedule, they go 4-4ish in league play. Maybe cowardly to just pick that type of a season and not go out on a limb either way, but that type of season is kind of Tech's thing.

Bonus: My Big 12 picks:
North: Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas St., Kansas, Iowa St.
South: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma St.
Big 12 championship game: Nebraska over Oklahoma (gotta be different, why not?)

Big Ten

JoePa's 400th
In 1966, Joe Paterno took over as the head coach at Penn State. Since then, there have been 860 Division IA head coaching changes, and Paterno has gone 394-129-3 leading the Nittany Lions. He has the most wins by a Division I-A coach. Counting his years as an assistant in Happy Valley, last year was his 60th year coaching at Penn State (started in 1950). He's 83, but who cares? He may coach five more years. He knows his limits but is still the captain of the ship. Penn State's sixth game is its Homecoming game, which would be epic to get 400 there, but that would require a Sept. 11 upset at Alabama. Game seven is at Minnesota, and game eight is at home vs. Michigan. So if the Nittany Lions lose at Alabama and at Iowa, that game with Meesh-uh-gun could be a great matchup for JoePa to get the historic win. (Game nine is at home, too, against Northwestern, if it comes to that.) But, he'll tell you, it's all about the kids. Still.


Can anyone stand up to Alabama and Forida?
The SEC's top-to-bottom strength is often its calling card, but Florida and Alabama have rolled largely unopposed to showdowns in the last two SEC title games. The rest of the SEC has crumbled before them the last two years, with the Big Two going a combined 31-1 in SEC play during this time. The one loss being Houston Nutt's Ole Miss squad winning in the Swamp, which led to Tim Tebow's now-famous, tearful speech: "You will never see..." Can anyone stand up to these two? The Tigers of LSU and Auburn justifiably get some publicity as potential challengers, but I'm looking at Georgia and Arkansas. The Dawgs-Hogs showdown is at Georgia on Sept. 18, and the winner of this delightful early-season showdown may emerge as an early conference contender.


Florida State, After Bowden
The Seminoles had an ugly parting of ways with the the legendary Bowden, and now we'll see how they do under Jimbo Fisher. The program has slipped lately, but will a change of coach reverse that? Florida State is No. 20 in the preseason AP poll and picked by many to win the ACC Atlantic Division. The logo and flaming spear are still there, along with the gum-chomping, entirely delightful caricature that is FSU's defensive coordinator, Mickey Andrews. Still, things will feel different in Tallahassee this fall. Will that be a good thing?


Will USC care?
The Trojans can't play in a bowl game due to pretty much a gross disregard for decency, the NCAA rulebook and basically the idea of amateur athletics. Still, they are loaded with talent, and the Pac-10 would be a fine prize that they can still attain. They likely have to contend with the explosive Oregon Ducks, plus a handful of other teams who are what the Pac-10 calls contenders. USC Coach Lane Kiffin makes plenty of headlines, though few are the type his mother would cut out to save for a scrapbook. Sports Illustrated bluntly asked, "Can Lane Kiffin coach?" in its season preview. Fair question, given his mediocrity with the Raiders and at Tennessee. For both the young coach and this storied-yet-sullied program, this is still a big year, even with a bowl game out of the question.

Big East

Can Wannstache, er, Wannsedt get it done?
Two straight years, Pitt and coach Dave Wannstedt have had a late-season matchup with eventual conference champ Cincinnati and lost by a touchdown or less. Last year, in the snow at home, Pitt led Cincy 31-10 before losing 45-44. Is this the year the coach, his iconic mustache and the Panthers get it done, win the Big East, and get into a BCS bowl? Running back Dion Lewis will carry much of the weight of the high preseason expectations (Pitt is favored to win the conference). Last year, as a TRUE FRESHMAN, Lewis 1,799 yards and 17 TDs. In that infamous Cincy game, Pitt handed the ball to Lewis play after play to start the game, something like 15 of the first 16 snaps. He must carry this team if they are to get over the hump.

Mountain West

Auditioning for this year's BCS buster
Will it be Texas Christian? Or Utah or BYU in a last hurrah? This is a league in transition, with Utah and BYU leaving and Boise State and friends coming in from the WAC. Regardless, this is a strong conference that consistently puts teams in BCS bowls. And wins them, too, last year's TCU loss to Boise notwithstanding. The continued rise of this conference, even with the changing landscape, will be fascinating to watch.


Will Boise State play for a national title?
I would love to see it. They are starting the season ranked in the top five, and they return pretty much all their key pieces from last year's unbeaten Fiesta Bowl champions. The opener against Virginia Tech at the Redskin's stadium in Maryland (not quite a truly neutral site) is probably the biggest hurdle (Monday night on ABC, get excited), followed by avoiding the temptation to get bored and win ugly, or worse, get upset, in WAC games. If get by Virginia Tech and stay locked in the rest of the way, the roar to get them in the national title game will be unstoppable... Hopefully. This debate may rage on all season, and then some.

Conference USA

Houston QB Case Keenum's Heisman charge
He is a long shot, but he'll likely put up unfathomable numbers. If the Cougars go unbeaten, and if he puts up big numbers in Houston's games against BCS teams (at UCLA, Mississippi St. and the finale at Texas Tech), he should at least garner an invite to New York as a finalist.


Temple and The Shirt and Tie on the rise
Temple coach Al Golden, who sports a fine shirt and tie combo on the sidelines, has lifted Bill Cosby's beloved Temple Owls from wretched to a nine-win bowl team. I know it's kind of a joke how easy it is to get to a bowl game these days, but for Temple, a team that hadn't had a winning season since 1990, it was a big step. It was also Temple's third bowl in its 111-year history. Now the talent level is up at Temple, and most are picking the Owls to win the MAC, assuming they can get by Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats and Northern Illinois.

Sun Belt

Can my cousin, Nathan Herrold, help Arkansas State win the Sun Belt?
...Because this is my blog... In all seriousness, Arkansas State has been talked about as a Sun Belt contender for the last few years, but haven't been able to get it done. Why not this year? If they can beat Middle Tennessee and Troy, the Red Wolves will be looking at a trip to the New Orleans Bowl, the destination for the Sun Belt's winner. And they have a Herrold on their team, so that's gotta help.

And there you have it. Let's get this thing going. Welcome back, college football!