We find ourselves late on a Monday after another weekend of close games. On Saturday, woefully underachieving Michigan State lost in overtime to Iowa as a result of what one local radio host called the worst coaching he had ever seen in his life, and the man is neither young nor inexperienced in the field. In a real upset, LSU threw a monkey wrench in the SEC East race and beat South Carolina 23-21, Kansas State escaped Ames with a 27-21 win over Iowa State, Notre Dame beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime, and Texas A&M squeaked by Louisiana Tech 59-57. Even the Florida-Vanderbilt game was close into the fourth quarter before the Gators and their quarterback ran away with it. More on that game later this week.
Saturday had its share of blowouts, naturally, and the notable ones included Alabama’s 42-10 win at Missouri, which remains winless in its new conference, Texas Tech’s 49-14 embarrassment of one-time national championship contender West Virginia, still-undefeated Oregon State’s 42-24 win over BYU, and Michigan’s 45-0 muddy execution of Illinois on Wolverine homecoming. Michigan hosts Michigan State in another ALDLAND outing, more on which toward the end of the week.
The NFL had its share of close contests too, including the Lions’ overtime win over hapless Philadelphia, Buffalo’s 19-16 overtime win over Arizona, whose kicker hit a 61-yarder to tie the game but subsequently missed a 30-something yard kick to win the game in the final seconds, the Seahawks 24-23 win over New England, Atlanta’s come-from-behind win over Oakland to become the league’s final undefeated team, Miami’s 17-14 victory over the Rams, and Baltimore’s 31-29 capitalization on the Dallas (ongoing) Disaster. Baltimore payed a long-term price for its win, though, sacrificing defenders Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb at last to the football devil (no, not the commissioner– separate office) in payment for their past defensive successes. Lewis and Webb are out for the season. Other high-flying teams went down in spectacular fashion on Sunday, including San Francisco, 26-3 at the hands of the Giants, and Houston, 42-24 to Green Bay on Sunday night.
In off-field NFL news, Jonathan Vilma, the embattled New Orleans Saint, reportedly will be allowed to play as soon as this weekend, although it isn’t clear if he will. Vilma continues to maintain a defamation suit against Roger Goodell.
In baseball, the final four is set and in motion. Detroit seized a 2-0 lead over the Yankees as the series heads to Detroit with AL strikeout kings Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer yet to pitch for the Tigers. The other road team, St. Louis, has a 1-0 lead in the NLCS battle of the two most recent defending World Series champions, though the Cardinals are down 5-1 in the fourth as I write this.
Sometimes it’s important to remind yourself that, for the most part, half the teams lose each and every football weekend. Despite what some say about football fandom, most of us are likely to have a couple teams we like, especially between the college and professional levels and, given the number of games played on a weekly basis, we’re likely to have a few winners and a few losers. You see where this is headed.
The Big Ten is struggling this season. None of their teams were in the top fifteen heading into Saturday, and they didn’t exactly respond well. Notre Dame completed a convincing conquest of the State of Michigan by taking down the Wolverines one week after they did the same to the Spartans, who unconvincingly defeated Eastern Michigan, possibly the worst team in Division I. Iowa lost in overtime to Central Michigan. Northwestern, Minnesota, and the ineligible Ohio State are 4-0. This conference is approaching Big East relegation level lows.
On the topic of relegation, Vanderbilt’s third defeat of the season, a 48-3 drubbing under the lights in Athens more about which later, has Commodore bloggers rising to defend their team’s membership in the SEC. That’s never good. The ACC had the game of the weekend though, in which Florida State defeated Clemson, clearing one of its final remaining obstacles on the path to national championship contention. That path may be clearing further, as LSU barely defeated Auburn. Oregon also started slow before completing a one-sided shutout of RichRod’s inoffensive Arizona Wildcats.
I missed most of the NFL games in transit back from Georgia on Sunday, but I understand the Lions went out with a whimper in an overtime loss in Nashville, the Falcons dominated the Chargers, Darrelle Revis is headed back to his Island after some variety of non-beard-related injury, Peyton Manning’s arm strength continues to be a question, and the scab officials are bad getting worse. (On their account, it also came out during the past week that at least some of them hold personal, financial stakes in the outcomes of the games, which adds a new element of excitement.)
In golf, Vanderbilt alum Brandt Snedeker won $11.4 million yesterday, and in the AL Central race, the White Sox lost once and the Tigers lost twice as part of a statistical phenomenon known as “regression to the mean (streets of Kansas City).”
College football starts tonight, when Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina in the first game of the season. With the national spotlight on Nashville, I’ve decided I’m allowed to make this preview collection extremely Commodore-heavy.
There are a number of reasons this game is a great season opener. First, it pits two division rivals against each other. In an era in which teams don’t play non-cupcakes until October to boost their BCS rankings, the value of an in-conference, in-division game to lead off opening day cannot be overstated. Second, that conference just happens to be the Southeastern Conference, the top one in the country. Third, these teams actually are somewhat competitive with each other, at least recently. While the overall series isn’t pretty for the black & gold, the Gamecocks are just 3-2 over the last five meetings, and one of those losses came in Columbia. Fourth, SC coach Steve Spurrier has a history of Vanderbilt hatred, which is showing no signs of cooling off. Fifth, the game should be an excellent showcase for the run game, with the visitors’ Heisman candidate competing against the home team’s RB corps, which is top in the conference. Sixth, SC is ranked #9 in the preseason rankings, which is a high ranking.
I’m on record predicting a Vandy win, but did you really expect anything else? Other games of note this weekend include Boise State at Michigan State on Friday and Alabama and Michigan playing in Dallas on Saturday.
The rest of this 2012 college football preview goes like this:
- College Football Preview Blowout Spectacular podcast – ALDLAND
- Vanderbilt position-by-position season preview – Open ‘Dores
- Vanderbilt position-by-position season preview – Vanderbilt Sports Line
- Predictions: South Carolina at Vanderbilt – Anchor of Gold
- South Carolina @ Vanderbilt Analysis – Open ‘Dores
- Previewing Vanderbilt vs. South Carolina – Vanderbilt Sports Line
- South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt: Playing a Game Against History – Team Speed Kills
- The Unsung Hero of College Football – Grantland
- Breaking Down the 2012 Vanderbilt Schedule – Vanderbilt Sports Line
- Predicting the Michigan State Football Season – Detroit Free Press
- Anchor Down: One Vanderbilt Fan’s Journey from Tienanmen Square to Dudley Field – Outkick the Coverage
- How excited are we, Americans, for football season? – ALDLAND
- The 2012 Hater’s Lover’s Guide To The Top 25– Deadspin
- 10.15.94 – Every Day Should Be Saturday
I realize this is likely the least useful preview aggregation I’ve put forth to date, but our sponsorship agreement with Gongshow Hockey hasn’t come through yet, and the site just doesn’t pay like it used to. Also and far more importantly, this week’s podcast took a very thorough look at the national college football scene, so listen to that on your way home from work, and if you’ve got other links that belong in the collection above, let me know, and I’d be happy to add them.
Enjoy the games!
ESPN’s College Gameday returns to Nashville this Saturday, with the focus on an 8:00 pm Central game between Vanderbilt and top-ranked Kentucky, following a 6:00 Eastern game between Michigan State and Ohio State in Columbus. It’s a big night for college basketball– particularly ALDLAND’s brand of college basketball– and because I’ve been to Columbus once and have no immediate desire to return, we’re taking you live to Memorial Gym for the late game.
Both Kentucky and Vanderbilt had high expectations before the season started, ranked #2 and #7, respectively, and while the Wildcats currently are surpassing those expectations, the Commodores have faltered. There are two main donkeys on which the tails of their struggles can be pinned: 1) knee injuries to big-man Festus Ezeli, and 2) a lack of bench support. These two rationales also provide good (and mostly legitimate) smokescreens for what Vandy fans fear may be behind their team’s difficulties: the apparent mental weakness that has kept this group from rising to its physical potential in past years. One sign that this spectre is fading is the pleasantly aggressive and frequently commanding performance of Jeffrey Taylor.
UK comes into Saturday night on a tear. They are 11-0 in SEC play, and they generally have been demolishing their opponents. I saw their most recent game, which was a comfortable win over Florida, a team that itself had a mostly comfortable win over Vanderbilt just last weekend. Vandy, meanwhile, comes limping– literally, in Ezeli’s case– into this game, with Wednesday night’s home win over LSU lukewarm comfort after consecutive eight-point losses to Florida and Arkansas. (The Razorbacks’ 81-59 loss to Georgia on Wednesday doesn’t help either.)
Before handing this post over to more accomplished previewers, a note on one similarity and one difference between these two teams. First, many have cited the Wildcats’ size as a factor in their success this season, but Vanderbilt actually matches up well with them physically. Second, Kentucky’s coach, John Calipari, is known for favoring young players, and this year’s starters– three freshman and two sophomores– track to that preference. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, starts a veteran crew: four seniors and one junior.
I’ve seen these two teams play twice before with mixed results. In 2008, the Commodores avenged a 79-73 double-overtime loss in Lexington by stunning the Wildcats 93-52 at Memorial Gym. I stunned myself with my own foolishness when I realized, after the game, that I’d locked my keys in my car and that, even in the Mid South, February is a cold month. Two years later, I saw these two again, when Vandy dropped a heartbreaker at home in 2010, losing by two points after missing multiple opportunites to seal a win or send the game into overtime. That was the most exciting game I’ve attended where the team I favored did not win.
Tomorrow’s game presents an even tougher test for Vanderbilt. I know Bilas is a Dookie of the first order, but if he says they can win, then it can be done. Plus, Vanderbilt has recent experience knocking of #1-ranked rival teams: they did it it to Tennessee in 2008.