Wednesday, December 28, 2011

NFL Week 17 Predictions

Week 16 Record: 14-2

Season Record: 168-74

Lions at Packers - Det will want to win to avoid the Saints 1st round.  GB should rest.
49ers at Rams - SF wins: a bye and host NO.  Lose: play ATL and visit NO.  This is a must win.
Jets at Dolphins - NY loses its 3rd straight to bury themselves.
Bears at Vikings - No Cutler, no Forte, no AP, who cares.  Bruin alumnus Kalil Bell wins it.
Bills at Patriots - Belicheat needs this game to grab AFC #1 seed.  Don't play Bills D in fantasy.
Panthers at Saints - Brees can put the record out of reach with a big game here.
Redskins at Eagles - McCoy bounces back from his worst game.
Colts at Jaguars - Amazingly, Indy has a chance to win 3rd straight, and lose the Luck race.
Titans at Texans - Texans have nothing to play for while Titans need a W and some help.
Buccaneers at Falcons - ATL would like to see NFC winner than the Saints in 1st round.
Ravens at Bengals - Whoever wins gets a huge prize: Bal a bye and Cincy the wildcard.  upset.
Steelers at Browns - Pittsburgh needs to win and Cincy to win for 1st round bye.
Chiefs at Broncos - Its Tebow time.  Win and Tebow-mania hits the postseason.
Chargers at Raiders - SD has a chance to stop the hated Raidas from playoff spot.
Seahawks at Cardinals - Winner gets to .500.  yay!  Bow down to the 49ers.  losers.
Cowboys at Giants - Its like the ncaa 1st round - play-in game.  NY pulls it out.

So based on my predictions, it'll be:

NFC
1st seed: Packers
2nd seed: 49ers
3rd seed: Saints
4rd seed: Giants
5th seed: Lions
6th seed: Falcons

AFC
1st seed: Patriots
2nd seed: Steelers
3rd seed: Texans
4th seed: Broncos
5th seed: Ravens
6th seed: Bengals

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

UCLA Bball, first step to a winning season


Well, we're above .500 for the first time all year.  Considering a putrid 1-4 start, a 6-5 record is great news.  I figured as much, so I made it an all men's family outing: my dad, my brother in law, and my two sons trekked out to downtown with me.

True, UC Irvine, just like UC Davis before them, is less Kansas than it is Chaminade, but it is obvious to all that we are playing much better basketball.  Without Reeves Nelson, we are unquestionably more focused and more relaxed.  Perhaps the Wears now have more room (and more minutes) to operate.  Perhaps Josh Smith's mind has been scared straight, seeing what happened to his frontcourt mate.  Perhaps the guards have snapped out of their funk and are simply shooting better.  Perhaps Zeek Jones can now be the leader he clearly is with Reeves gone.  Perhaps Howland has simply had the practice and game time to vastly improve our team defense.  Or perhaps we're just playing much weaker opponents.  Whatever the reason, I'm glad we're on the right track and may still have a chance to make a improbable run at the NCAA tourney.

Clearly jettisoning Reeves was the right move, perhaps even later than what it should have been, since both of Reeves' parents have come out in support of Howland's decision. We fans, though, are incredulous that we are actually losing our best player.  I think 10 years from now he will look back in deep regret.  Lithuania cannot possibly be better for his pro hopes than a starting job at UCLA.

Back to our team:

- Our guards are shooting a much better clip.  Jerime shot 3-5.  Tyler shot 7-13 and finished with 17 points.  Zeek was 4-9.  Norman was 6-11.  From 3 point land, we shot 50% (9 for 18).

- Since the horror 0-5 showing against Michigan late November, Zeek Jones has shot 60% (34 for 57).  He looks more relaxed but still aggressive and in control.

- The Wears are finally shrugging off the cobwebs from sitting a season and are coming into their own.  Travis' foot infection aside, they are starting to show off their multi-faceted skills.

- One good thing about Josh Smith's poor conditioned offseason is that he will probably hate being called "fat" all season and come into next season in shape.  With the two offensively skilled perimeter players coming in next season, we could have an extremely dynamic team to open the new Pauley Pavilion.

- The big story of the night though was Norman Powell, who exploded for 19 points, including 4-6 from 3 point land.  Incredibly, he grabbed 7 boards, had 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks to complete his great scoreline.  He also had a couple monstrous dunks, which UCLA fans have missed since the days of Westbrook.  This freshmen is not afraid of failure.  I'm glad Howland is giving him PT.

If we can beat perennial NCAA tourney participants, Richmond, on Friday, we'll be 7-5 and ready to give the Pac-12 a run.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NFL Week 16 Predictions

Week 15 Record: 10-6

Season Record: 154-72

Texans at Colts - Told you Indy would beat the Titans.
49ers at Seahawks - Seattle is red-hot.  This will probably be a close game.
Broncos at Bills - Denver D not as great as everyone said.  Tebow's getting better.
Cardinals at Bengals - Cincy dominates at home.
Jaguars at Titans - Tennessee bounces back from embarrassing loss.
Raiders at Chiefs - Beat the Pack, lose to the Raidas.
Dolphins at Patriots - I wouldn't be surprised if.... actually nevermind.  Pats in a romp.
Giants at Jets - Giants are imploding.  Jets are at home.  So I'll take Giants.  heh.
Rams at Steelers - You're still alive in survival and you haven't picked Pitt yet.  Now's good.
Vikings at Redskins - Minny steals one to get to 3 wins.
Buccaneers at Panthers - Cam Newton puts up huge numbers here.
Browns at Ravens - You're still alive in survival and you haven't picked Balt yet.  yeah.
Chargers at Lions - SD is surging but so is Det.
Eagles at Cowboys - Romo is quietly playing out of his mind.  But I'll take Vick anyway.
Bears at Packers - Rodgers will come back with vengeance.
Falcons at Saints - Brees should set NFL record here.

49ers dominate Steelers on MNF


With the Brees led Saints surging, the 49ers desperately needed a win to maintain the 1st round bye that they had lost last week in disappointing fashion to the Cardinals.  Regaining their mojo, the 49ers played a physical, hard-hitting game on both sides of the ball and dominated the matchup of 10-win teams, especially in the 2nd half.  Had Pittsburgh won, they would have taken over 1st place in the AFC.  What stuck out to me?

- Niners D caused 4 turnovers, including intercepting Big Ben 3 times in key moments.

- Rookie Aldon Smith had 2 1/2 more sacks to add to his season total of to 13, good for 2nd most all-time by a rookie.  The record is 14 1/2, set by Jevon Kearse in 1999.

- Still no rushing TDs allowed through 14 games.  This is an NFL record - a ridiculous achievement if you think about it.

- Alex Smith was not sacked after being sacked a total of 18 times in the last 3 games.

Niners are at Seattle and St. Louis to finish out the season.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NFL Week 15 Predictions

Week 14 Record: 13-3

Season Record: 144-66

Jaguars at Falcons - ATL at home in another must win.
Cowboys at Buccaneers - TB may have to fire coach to get player's attention.
Dolphins at Bills - Strange that MIA would fire Sparano during a 4-2 stretch.
Seahawks at Bears - Chi D limits Lynch and finds a way to win.
Titans at Colts - Colts win, Colts win, Colts win.
Packers at Chiefs - Seems like a foregone conclusion that the Pack win out.
Bengals at Rams - Now the Rams need a new coach.
Saints at Vikings - Brees has Saints hitting all cylinders.
Redskins at Giants - A win, but not a blowout.
Panthers at Texans - Never heard of TJ Yates, but the playoff-bound team believes in him.
Lions at Raiders - This game could go either way, but Lions keep Raiders from tying Broncos.
Patriots at Broncos - Not sure Tebow can comeback from the points Brady will probably put up.
Jets at Eagles - Vick's the difference in an upset.  At least I hope so for my fantasy sake.
Browns at Cardinals - Whisenhunt has the Cards finally playing well.
Ravens at Chargers - Ravens keep pedal to the metal.
Steelers at 49ers - Harbaugh gets team back on track in big upset victory.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NFL Week 14 Predictions

Week 13 Record: 9-7

Season Record: 127-63

Browns at Steelers - Pitts can't afford any slipups since Ravens have tiebreaker.
Texans at Bengals - Didn't like Cincy's performance on Sunday.  Their D needs to show up.
Vikings at Lions - Suh is the anti-Tebow.
Saints at Titans - SF needs to see NO in Candlestick come Jan.  Not the Superdome.
Eagles at Dolphins - I'm tired of picking the Eagles.
Chiefs at Jets - Mark Sanchez has become a Favrian gun-slingin fool.
Patriots at Redskins - Unstoppable offense, invisible defense.  Kind of like GB.
Falcons at Panthers - ATL needs this game badly.  I think they get it.
Buccaneers at Jaguars - A Mojo leads them.
Colts at Ravens - Would Indy actually be crazy enough to cut Peyton in the offseason?
Bears at Broncos - Tebow 6-1 this year.  His haters hate him because they hate themselves.
49ers at Cardinals - First NFC West title since 2002.  Harbaugh did it by Wk 13.
Raiders at Packers - Broncos have a great chance at a 1 game division lead.
Bills at Chargers - Matchup of collapsing 5-7 teams.  Rivers at home, takes it.
Giants at Cowboys - I have no idea.  I'll say Giants upset for the heck of it.
Rams at Seahawks - The most meaningless game on tap.

Clint Dempsey's Record 37 EPL Goals

On Monday, Clint Dempsey's 85th minute, game-winning goal against Liverpool set the record for most goals scored by an American in the Premier League with 37.  Before Brian McBride's 2008 incredible mark of 36, the most an American had scored was 13, set by Roy Wegerle in 1995.

This isn't the first notable moment vs Liverpool in Dempsey's career.  In his first year at Fulham '06-'07, his winning goal kept Fulham in the top flight and kick-started his legend.  Beginning that season, Dempsey has since become the club's leading scorer in the EPL, which he also surpassed McBride (32) to achieve.

This has been quite a year for Clint.  For the '10-'11 season, Dempsey was awarded Fulham's Player of the Season.  He managed to lead the club with 13 goals on the year, which is also the most by an American in Europe in a single season.  In this campaign, with the Liverpool goal, Dempsey once again leads his club in scoring with 6 goals over all competitions.  He was also awarded the US Soccer Player of the Year award, having scored a career-high 5 goals this calendar year.  Still in his prime at 28, Clint Dempsey is already the most accomplished field player (non-goalkeeper) in US (and Fulham) history.

Monday, December 5, 2011

49ers 2011 NFC West Champs!


For the first time since 2002, the San Francisco 49ers are again where they belong - atop the NFC West.  Since the division's inception in 1970, the 49ers have won it 18 times.  The Rams are 2nd with 11 divisional titles but neither franchise had won it from 2003 on.  Seattle and Arizona both entered the division in 2002 but collectively capitalized on the 49ers and Rams' lean years from '03 through '10, when the Seahawks made history by shamefully claiming the West's lone playoff spot with a sub .500 record at 7-9.  So order has been restored now and Harbaugh did it resoundingly with four weeks to go.

Now, SF's attention turns to the 1st round bye.  Even with a 1 game lead over the Saints and 3 games vs NFC West opponents (1 game vs each divisional opponent, none of which have more than 5 wins) left, the 49ers can't be overconfident as the Saints are dominating offensively and are the 2nd best NFC team (if not in the NFL) in most experts' minds.

In this game, Frank Gore set the franchise record for most rushing yards, now with 7,396.  It must be noted that the previous leader, Joe Perry is officially at 7,344 but had another 1,345 in the AAFC in '48-'49.  The great Roger Craig finished with 7,064.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bruins win 1st home game (and fire Neuheisal)


Having lost our first two games, we were sure to win this one.  Plus, I figured with the bashing we took in football, it would be an extraordinarily convenient (sparse) night at the Sports Arena for the family.

After a 1-2 record in Maui, the question for me coming into the Pepperdine game was how committed Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith really were.  Jay Bilas had killed them in his analysis - questioning whether they truly cared and whether they would buy in to Howland's team.  He thought Josh Smith took a step backwards in terms of conditioning and desire.  As for Reeves, he had gone as far as stating that Howland should remove him from the team until his attitude improved.  It was indeed disheartening to hear about Reeves' missed flight (regardless of the reported alarm clock / power outage) and it did seem that he was still off-kilter in his mood, especially in the waning moments of the failed comeback vs Kansas.

This is a big problem for us.  Josh Smith was supposed to be the player with the most pro potential and the breakout force inside this year.  Reeves is essentially our best player - leading rebounder and scorer - with the energy and physicality to lead our team.  Regardless of who we'd play at the 3, we would still have the best frontcourt in the conference.  These are the 2 guys who have attitude problems?  Reeves is out here launching 3s and auditioning to be an NBA small forward.  Josh has shown a lack of discipline on and off the court - (and he needs to understand the importance of not reaching down all the time on defense.  Arms straight up please!)  ugh.

Last night, in a 62-39 thrashing of Pepperdine, Bruin fans caught a glimpse of what we'd look like without Josh or Reeves since they played about 11 minutes, each being in foul trouble.  However, the Wear twins, along with our starting guards- Jerime, Tyler and Lazeric (the 3 players that Bilas' especially mentioned who really seem to care) put on a defensive performance that we've come to expect from a Howland side.

As atrocious as our offense and defense were vs LMU and MTSU, I knew that Howland would eventually fix the defense.  Playing good D is ultimately a matter of effort and heart.  Last night we caught a glimpse of that.  However, offensively we were going to need much better shooting nights from our guards.

Lazeric Jones shot 2 for 3 on three-pointers last night and 4-8 from the field.  There was never any doubting his desire - if anything, he has been pressing too hard, so it was good to see him find some success.  In fact, he was our leading scorer at 14 points and also set the tone of the game with a few early steals, ending with 6.

Norman Powell has been a big unexpected contributor this season.  Perhaps too young to be encumbered by the immense pressure of filling the Lee/Honeycutt void, he has been unafraid to shoot and play aggressively.  I initially thought that he was too raw for significant minutes, but his athleticism is giving us an important boost off the bench.  Powell was 2 for 4 from downtown last night as well.

The Wear twins finally performed the way the hype machine said they would.  Collectively, they scored 18 points, grabbed 17 boards, blocked 5 shots, and lost 2 teeth (Travis).  They really only played about 24 minutes each.  This is what I'd like to see from them every game (minus the teeth part).

I wonder how a 10 man rotation will look when Parker comes back from his concussion.  But all in all, it was the best performance from our squad this year.  Hopefully, the worst is past us.  Hopefully Reeves gets his mental act together.

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After that shameful 50-0 drubbing, Neuheisal had to be fired.  As TJ Simers continues to note, Neuheisal has handled his tenure and now his firing with class.  But, it is beyond me as to how he didn't work out.  He and Norm Chow should have easily recruited a bonafide QB to UCLA.  In 3 years, real progress should have been obvious.  There is no way a school like UCLA should be running the pistol.  So where do we go from here?  The few comments that I've read since are encouraging.

"Multiple sources close to the program have said that the school is ready to make a financial commitment to football..."

"UCLA prepared to pay a head football coach a top-ten competitive salary, and offer a very attractive complete package that includes paying his assistants good salaries..."

From AD Dan Guerrero:
"Football is the primary sport here from an economic standpoint; we all understand that,'' he said. "Our commitment to football is solid.''

I'll believe it when I see it, but if UCLA is really ready to make a true commitment to football (in terms of coaching salaries, facilities upgrades, etc), maybe we fans can truly care again.  But that commitment is more important than who we actually hire.  Neuheisal should have fielded a better team by his 4th year, but there was no way he could compete nationally year after year with his current resources.

NFL Week 13 Predictions

Week 12 Record: 12-4

Season Record: 118-56

Eagles at Seahawks - Tavaris Jax injury more damaging than Vick's.
Rams at 49ers - Ravens just sacked Alex S again.  Right side of line needs patching.
Titans at Bills - Without Fred J, Fitzpatrick is airing it out again.
Chiefs at Bears - Backup QB bowl.  Forte carries the day.
Raiders at Dolphins - Oakland making playoff push.
Broncos at Vikings - Kerry Byrne of SI says Tebow's playing great football.  I believe.
Colts at Patriots - A Brady vs Rodgers Superbowl is looking very possible.
Bengals at Steelers - Home team takes it in battle of current AFC wildcard holders.
Panthers at Buccaneers - Carolina probably only has 1 more win this year.  not here.
Jets at Redskins - Jets D makes for another horrible Grossman meltdown.
Falcons at Texans - Bad break for Texans fans, but at least one trojan had a bad weekend.
Ravens at Browns - Impressive win by Harbaugh's squad vs 9ers.
Packers at Giants - Brees just hung 49 points on them...
Cowboys at Cardinals - Dallas have 1 game lead but two games vs NY down the stretch.
Lions at Saints - Detroit doesn't get a break.  Rodgers last week, Brees next.
Chargers at Jaguars - a Rivers-led 4-1 team went on a 6 game losing streak.  amazing.


3/4 Season Playoff Prediction

AFC East: Patriots
AFC North: Ravens
AFC South: Texans
AFC West: Raiders
AFC Wildcards: Steelers, Jets

NFC East: Cowboys
NFC North: Packers
NFC South: Saints
NFC West: 49ers
NFC Wildcards: Falcons, Lions

Besides the AFC East, all the AFC divisions are really still up for grabs.  I have the Ravens edging out the Steelers by way of their head to head tiebreaker.  The Texans have a 2 game lead and barely stagger home without a QB.  The Raiders get to the postseason by virtue of their 1 game lead over Tebow.  And the Jets nab the last wildcard with their defense.

As for the NFC East, the Cowboys hold a 1 game lead over the Giants, but still have the season series to play against them.  I think Dallas holds on (especially with an easy one vs Ari this week).  The Saints are firing on all cylinders so the Falcons will have to settle for a wildcard. The Lions only need to beat out the QB-less Bears and the schedule-handicapped Giants for the last wildcard.

AFC Championship: Ravens over Patriots
NFC Championship: Packers over 49ers (just barely, okay?)
Superbowl Prediction: Packers over Ravens

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NFL Week 12 Predictions

Week 11 Record: 9-5

Season Record: 106-54

Packers at Lions - Only a little worrisome that Packers D keeps opponents in the game.
Dolphins at Cowboys - With still broken ribs, Romo's now won 3 and kept a low profile.
49ers at Ravens - Harbaugh bowl.  On the road.  Short week.  Epic win for the 9ers.
Vikings at Falcons - ATL fighting for playoffs - one game back of division and wild card.
Browns at Bengals - AFC wild card spots both taken by AFC North.
Buccaneers at Titans - Blount's beast mode tackle-shedding TD was sick.
Panthers at Colts - Some may say this is a good week for the Colts to get a W.  not me.
Cardinals at Rams - The Who-Cares game of the week.
Bills at Jets - Complete and utter collapse by Buffalo.
Texans at Jaguars - I think Leinart will be solid the rest of the way.  Unfortunately.
Bears at Raiders - Caleb Hanie won't be.  3 trojan QBs will get wins.  ugh.
Redskins at Seahawks - Two consecutive good games from Grossman is a tall task, I know.
Patriots at Eagles - LeSean McCoy needs the ball.  Not hard to understand.
Broncos at Chargers - I love Tebow.  I own Rivers.  SD stops the 5 game bleeding here.
Steelers at Chiefs - Time for the Steeler D to get back on track.
Giants at Saints - With Saints, Packers, 'Boys up next, NY could be on 5 game L streak.

Monday, November 21, 2011

LA Galaxy, 2011 MLS Cup Champs!

The LA Galaxy won the 2011 MLS Cup last night, capping off a momentous period in soccer history in America.  David Beckham's worldwide publicized move to the US in his relative prime back in 2007 brought massive publicity to our domestic soccer league, which ultimately lead to critical advancements for the MLS including, more soccer-specific stadiums, bigger television deals, mainstream (ESPN) coverage and more world-class soccer stars willing to spend a few of their latter years here (ie Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, etc).  While Beckham's widely-publicized 5 year, 250 million dollar contract was a calculated exaggeration, his actual contract 5 years, $32.5 mil was a phenomenal deal for the Galaxy.

Beckham's celebrated arrival in 2007 in many ways mirrored Pele's arrival to the NASL in 1975.  Like Beckham, Pele brought instant publicity and fame to the domestic league and attracted other big name stars to the US.  Though the NASL eventually folded and soccer's possibilities as a US mainstream sport seemingly died, the effects of that excitement undoubtedly had an effect on US Soccer's re-emergence to the World Cup in 1990 and beyond.

I still remember attending Beckham's first game as a member of the Galaxy - a July friendly vs visiting Chelsea.  It was a level of excitement and worldwide attention to our domestic league that hadn't been seen since Pele's NASL days.  But this time, with a stronger infrastructure and proper financial backing, it seems that the MLS will not be folding anytime soon.

Though the Designated Player rule has been in effect for over half a decade (primarily put in place to create salary space for Beckham), this championship is the first to ever be won by a DP.  (In fact, LA actually has three - Donovan, Beckham and Keane.)  With all the publicity, it would definitely have been a failure had Beckham not won the MLS championship during his time here.  Also, because LA had won the Western conference for the 3rd straight year and was close in 2009 to the title, losing to RSL in penalty kicks, it actually felt like a long-awaited coronation last night.  I think the MLS needed this championship and one last worldwide spotlight moment with Beckham, to validate the success of the move they made in 2007.

Many argue that Beckham never really gave the Galaxy his all during those 5 years and was never truly committed to the soccer movement in the US.  They point to his two loan spells with AC Milan early in 2009 and 2010 and his supreme dedication to making England's 2010 WC squad as proof.  Even in this past offseason, he trained with Tottenham which brought another onslaught of transfer questions.  It is true that Landon Donovan's public frustration with an uncommitted Beckham in 2009 was probably justified.

As I wrote in 2009, I thought that Beckham initially made his decision to come to LA when Real Madrid and England closed its doors to him.  But when he earned his way back into good graces for England, his focus immediately shifted there.  Playing for AC Milan was necessary to please Capello for WC selection.  (His professionalism and work ethic which won over Capello after being unfairly marginalized at Real is extremely commendable.)  It is absolutely understandable that his commitment to playing for England in WC 2010 outweighed his commitment to the soccer movement in the States.  MLS fans should have grasped that and been willing to receive him back after WC 2010 knowing that playing on the world's greatest stage would have brought the spotlight back with him again to the Galaxy.  After his unfortunate achilles injury early 2010 ended his WC hopes, Beckham has really shown what kind of player he can be with his focus here.  His MVP worthy play this season culminated last night with a dominant midfield performance on a torn hamstring, no less.  Let's review his 5 year stretch with LA.

2007 - Played sparingly after celebrated signing in the summer, LA missed playoffs.
2008 - Full season in LA but missed playoffs.
2009 - 1st half loan to AC Milan, July return to LA, lost in championship game.
2010 - 1st half loan to Milan, March achilles injury, Sept LA return, lost in Western Conf Finals.
2011 - Full season with LA, Best Record in MLS, Comeback Player of the Year, MLS Cup Champions.

 My point is that Beckham didn't need to be completely focused on soccer here in LA to accomplish MLS' goal of raising soccer awareness nationwide.  His mere presence, especially during the summer club friendly months, was more than enough.  Had he made accomplished his goal of making England's WC roster, it would have been Beckham-mania all over the States, especially since England and the US were slated to play each other in the group stage.  However, it was true that after his injury, there was a lull in interest about Beckham, as US Soccer took over the nation's soccer interest quota.  Therefore, he (and the Galaxy) now needed this championship to reclaim the spotlight and validate his time here.

Beckham's playing resume now looks like this:

- 1999 UEFA Champions League Title (Manchester United)
- '96, '97, '99, '00, '01, '03 Premier League Titles (Manchester United)
- 2007 La Liga Title (Real Madrid)
- 2011 MLS Cup Champion (Los Angeles Galaxy)

- 115 International caps for England (could still play for England in Olympics)
- 58 caps as England captain

As for the future, I'm assuming Beckham's time here in the States could very well be over.  Though his family seems to be settled in here in California, the Beckhams are nowhere near the international stars that they probably feel they should be.  They probably need to go back to Europe.  David has played for the most storied teams in each league - Man U, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Los Angeles.  Now, he seems to be most strongly linked with Paris Saint-Germaine, France.  They're not exactly the most storied of all French teams, but they're based in Paris - Victoria will probably like being there.  (After the Beckham tour rips through Ligue 1, they can tackle the Bundesliga last.  Bayern Munich could use more dough.)  At the very least, his emotional state after the game seems to indicate that he knows his playing days here is done.  I do hope he stays since he's really only given LA one full successful season.  But if not, at least it was a Hollywood ending.

As for Donovan, this MLS Cup was his 4th league championship.  With the SJ Earthquakes, he had won in 2001 and 2003 and in LA, he previously won in 2005.  So even though the Galaxy are only 3 for 7 in the championship game overall, Landon is actually 4 of 5, with two MLS Cup MVPs.  Many have argued that he has taken a slight backseat to Beckham and Keane this season but it was fitting that the Galaxy captain scored the title-clinching goal.  Also apropos, fellow DPers, Beckham and Keane, both assisted on the play.

It is interesting to note that Donovan's criticism of Beckham came at a time where he was also open to European opportunities.  He had returned to Germany in a failed loan at Bayern Munich from Nov 2008 to March 2009.  Starting in Jan to Mar of 2010, he had an extremely successful stint at Everton of the EPL (including being named Everton's January player of the month).  Undoubtedly, had Everton been able to afford him, Donovan would have gladly stayed on there.  Now that he's won his 2nd title here in LA, Donovan should probably be willing to give Europe one last shot.  At 29, he is probably nearing the end of his prime.

Overlooked in all of this is Bruce Arena, who took a struggling (and bickering) side midseason in 2008 and won the regular season Western Conference in all 3 of the subsequent full seasons at the helm.  Not a bad resume considering the fact that he led US Soccer to its most successful 8 year stretch before that.  All in all, he's won 3 MLS Cup titles ('96, '97, '11) and 3 Supporters' Shields (best regular season record, which is how they determine championships in Europe).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

US: Bocanegra's 100th, Dempsey's 24th & Klinsmann's tenure

US Captain and UCLA alumnus, Carlos Bocanegra, reached the 100 cap mark vs Slovenia on Tuesday.  He's just the 12th player in US Soccer history to reach the century mark and remarkably, only the 3rd true defender to do so behind Jeff Agoos (134) and Marcelo Balboa (128).  Whether Bocanegra can ever get within reach of those two will depend on how well he ages between now and WC 2014.  Realistically, at age 32, he is still our unquestioned CB starter and it seems that he will have a good chance to pass Claudio Reyna's 112 caps to take over sole 5th place by the end of his international career.

Carlos' first cap was back on Dec 9, 2001 vs South Korea and has been our captain since June 2, 2007 vs China.  In fact, of those 100 caps, he's been the captain 54 times.  His 100 caps were acquired in 25 different countries against 42 different teams.  Naturally, his 9 matches vs Mexico marks them as his most-faced opponent.  He's managed to score 12 goals as well (tied for 13th overall in US Soccer history) - 10 with his head, 6 were game-winners, and 2 were against Brazil (including one that I witnessed with my own eyes: at Soldier Field, he scored with his left pec).  To put that in perspective, the aforementioned Balboa only scored 13 goals in 128 caps while Agoos only had 4.  Carlos has a chance to become the most prolific scoring defender in US history!

It must be mentioned that fellow Bruin alumnus, Cobi Jones, holds the US record for most caps at an astounding 164.  Landon Donovan will likely surpass Cobi in a few years time as he currently stands at 138 caps.  Donovan and Bocanegra are the only two active players who have reached the century mark.  Other current players who have high cap counts include DeMarcus Beasley at 96 caps and Clint Dempsey at 82 caps, both of whom will probably reach 100 (Dempsey for sure, Beasley is likely).  Steve Cherundolo is next at 78 caps but is in a tough race against time (age 32), while Tim Howard, at 72 caps, is entrenched at GK until WC 2014 and should see 100 by then.  Oguchi Onyewu, 62 caps, may have been robbed of his chance by injury during a few prime years.

Two younger current players have also accumulated solid cap counts and are easily on track for 100.  Michael Bradley is just 24 years old but already has 63 caps to his name while Jozy Altidore has tallied 45 caps by age 22.

Looking at the cap list for US Soccer, there are two names that were close but were deserving of the 100 cap mark.  Alexi Lalas, stuck at 96, was unfairly benched in the '98 WC and has been an ambassador for US Soccer.  But more grievously, Brian McBride, the respected workhorse forward who epitomizes the best traits of the American player - absolute determination and tireless work rate - was 5 games short.  Fittingly, McBride honorably decided to retire and decline any invitations to chase individual glory.

****************************************************

In the 3-2 win over Slovenia, Clint Dempsey scored his 24th international goal, propelling him to (a tie for) 4th overall in US Soccer history.  Joe-Max Moore shares the 24 goal mark with Dempsey, but he did it in 100 games, playing in 18 more contests than Clint.  The 3 legends still above Dempsey would be Brian McBride at 30 goals, Eric Wynalda at 34 and Landon Donovan at 46.  I would be interested to see how many of their goals came from penalty kicks.  Clearly, Landon has taken the majority of PK's since Dempsey's international ascendance, so we know that Dempsey didn't accumulate his goal count from that.

Just this year, Dempsey has scored 5 goals in 14 games, winning the US Soccer player of the year award.  How many goals will he have when he's done?  At age 28, he could possibly have another, say 50 games over the next 5-6 years, assuming he ages as well as Reyna or McBride.  At his current rate, he would finish with about 39 goals.  Heck, maybe he'll even take a few PKs should Landon step aside.  Age will likely slow down Clint's goal rate but who can possibly predict what will happen in his career?

Earlier this year, Clint also became the leading scorer (not just American) in Fulham's Premier League history and recently became (tied with McBride as) the top-scoring American in Premier League history overall with 36.  According to the Wall Street Journal, 33 Americans have played in the Premier League since its inception in 1992 (including 7 GKs who've accounted for 42% of games played) and they have totaled 131 goals.  Besides McBride's 36 goals, Roy Wegerle was the only other American to reach double figures (13).  Basically, when its all said and done, Dempsey will be the best American player ever, not only in England, but in Europe.

****************************************************


US soccer is now 2 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw under Klinsmann.  We've scored 5 goals and given up 7 in return.  Of those 5, however, 3 were in the last game vs Slovenia.  In the first 6 games, we only scored 2 goals - a tap in by Rogers vs Mexico and Dempsey's skillful strike vs Honduras.  The other games vs Costa Rica, Belgium, Ecuador and France all ended the same: 1-0 loss.  Again, I'd argue that we probably deserved to win vs Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador had we been better at scoring opportunities in the final 3rd.

This November camp is probably the best one Klinsmann has had yet.  After Klinsmann's much advertised first game resulted in a much needed draw vs Mexico, our September set began with a disappointing home loss vs Costa Rica (especially disappointing because I was there and Landon missed an easy goal just yards in front of me) and then we were outplayed in Belgium.  We had 1 goal in 3 games.

October's contests began promisingly with the victory over Honduras but we followed that up with a horrible defeat against Ecuador.  We had actually outshot Ecuador 22-9 on the night, couldn't convert and gave up a 79th minute goal.  2 goals in 5 games.

No one expected for us to actually beat France, so we didn't.  However, our defense played a pretty strong game and it was the French fans who were booing their team at the half.  Goodson's slip allowed France's lone goal, but overall it was a decent performance by the US, albeit a conservative defensive-minded side.  Klinsmann capped his 2nd player ever, another German-born son of an American serviceman, Fabian Johnson.  His 1st ever capped player, Danny Williams, started against France but was ineffective from the wing.  He is likely just more suited to a central midfield role - players of which we have many.

Against Slovenia, Klinsmann surprised everyone by deploying two forwards in the starting lineup for the first time and he was rewarded when both Buddle and Altidore got on the scoresheet in the 1st half.  Buddle's rather long distance strike (impressively chested down and volleyed perfectly just inside left post) was the sort of goal that you'd only expect from Clint and maybe Jozy.  Overall, it was clearly the best attacking performance we've seen under Klinsmann.  Under the two forwards, Dempsey was the attacking midfielder at the top of a diamond midfield.  In my mind, it is the perfect spot to make use of his skills.

Surprisingly, Klinsmann tried out two different midfield wings this time - Bradley on the right instead of the ineffective Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson on the left instead of Brek Shea.  Bradley strangely didn't see any time vs France (while Edu, Jermaine Jones and Beckerman all did) but was universally praised for his solid play vs Slovenia.  He tirelessly assisted Beckerman in defense and passed the ball extremely well in attack, although he obviously prefers to tuck in centrally.  Beckerman, in my opinion, looks to be slightly out of his element speed-wise when left as the lone defensive midfielder, as the 2nd Slovenian goal illustrates.  Fabian Johnson, who drew a clear penalty resulting in the game-winning score, was much more threatening in attack than Danny Williams ever has been and should be considered a viable alternative going forward on the flanks.

Defensively, Klinsmann hasn't done much to improve our squad much at all since he's taken over.  Cherundolo, Bocanegra and Goodson were our starters in Bob Bradley's final game back in June, just as they were in these two games.  Don't forget that Bradley wanted to bring in Chandler but was rebuffed when he (or his club) wanted him to rest, a decision that ultimately cost us the Gold Cup Final.  Obviously the renewed Gooch was slightly injured recently and couldn't play, but it is of the utmost importance that we bring in new faces at CB to train them up for 2014 and beyond.  Again, Bocanegra and Cherundolo will both be 35 by the next World Cup.  There needs to be a real sense of urgency about this now.

Klinsmann didn't bring back Tim Ream this month, but did call in Orozco again for reasons that are beyond all of us.  If we look back, we can attribute defensive mistakes which directly resulted in goals to Orozco (vs Costa Rica), Ream (vs Ecuador) and Goodson (vs France).  Had it been me, I would've have brought in at least 3-4 other young CBs from July to now because it was clearly the team's biggest weakness.  Omar Gonzalez, George John, Geoff Cameron, etc, deserve to at least get a close-up look in camp.

So, to sum it up:

Positives of Klinsmann's tenure:

- A more possession-focused side who attempts to pass out from the back to generate the attack.

- Generally, 5 attacking players involved in the offense instead of the Bradley 4 (2 forwards plus Dempsey and Donovan).

- Timothy Chandler - maybe not the greatest showing vs Slovenia, but ought to be entrenched at LB, at least until Cherundolo retires, although Lichaj was promising there pre-injury as well.

- Brek Shea - Again, not a Klinsmann discovery, but has clearly flourished as the wide-left threat that we haven't had since DeMarcus Beasley. 

- Jose Francisco Torres - a usable offensive central midfield piece, currently injured.

- Fabian Johnson - since wing players were not our midfield strength, he provides some depth.  We've only really seen him in one game.


Negatives:

- Only 1 shutout in 7 games and we've allowed 7 goals.  Defensively, we're nowhere close to where we should be.

- In the greatest position of need, not a single new CB has been discovered in 7 games, with only 2 young recruits even brought in for live tryouts: Orozco/Ream = fail.  Onyewu's unexpected comeback mitigates the need in the short run, but not for WC 2014.

- Kyle Beckerman is the current Klinsmann favorite starter at defensive mid but seems to be an inferior choice to Michael Bradley.  Especially at the bottom of the diamond, Beckerman cannot cover nearly as much ground as Bradley can.  Why would Klinsmann believe that a career MLSer is a better option than a younger and already experienced World Cup veteran currently starting for a Serie A side who unquestionably has one of the world's best motors?

- Klinsmann's 5 midfielder formations scored just 2 goals in 6 games, while his 2 forward/4 midfielder diamond scored 3 in 1 game and showed the most attacking prowess.  Small sample size to be sure, but Klinsmann will have to decide which formation works best for the US going forward.


If we were to play a game in December, this would be my lineup:

----------------Jozy--Buddle-------------
----------------Dempsey------------------
Shea -----------------------------Donovan
-----------------Bradley------------------
Chandler-Bocanegra-Onyewu-Cherundolo
-----------------Howard------------------

2nd Team:
-----------------Agudelo----------------
Beasley----------Torres----------Fabian J
--------------Edu-------J Jones--------
Danny W-George John--Goodson--A Morales
-----------------Hamid-------------------

Don't know anything about Alfredo Morales but hey, he plays in Germany.  Danny Williams can slot in as my LB just so I can get all the German born boys (minus Chandler) on the field together.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

UCLA loses 86-66 to MTSU, falls to 0-2

Well... at least the Sports Arena wasn't quite the dump I thought it would be.  Traffic getting to the old arena, which is practically on the trojan campus, was light and the parking lot was conveniently located directly in front.  I must say, with probably less than 4,000 Bruin fans there, it was a nice, kind of intimate atmosphere for the family.  My boys even had plenty of space in the concourse to run around at halftime without fear of getting run over by a mob.  Another plus, my seats for this game were slightly closer to the court and had a better side view than the behind-the-basket seats at Pauley.  It must be noted that UCLA really did a good job dressing up the old stadium for Bruin fans - championship banners, UCLA seat covers, blue carpeting around the court, etc.  Oh, and can't forget the free UCLA bball poster which my 3 year old couldn't wait to put up in his room.  So, that's about all the positives I could think of for the night.

I knew that Reeves Nelson was an emotional player, but who could have predicted that he would ever contemplate quitting the team?  Clearly unhappy about his offense role in Howland's system, Reeves didn't participate in team huddles late during the LMU loss, was late to the next day's team meeting and was absent from a subsequent practice.  It is hard to understand his rationale, since he was an unquestioned 30+ minute starter as well as the team's leading scorer and rebounder last season.  Howland suspended him indefinitely for his conduct and there's a good chance Nelson may choose to leave UCLA.

This, of course, reminds us of Drew Gordon, whose destructive and cancerous attitude, though he began playing big minutes as a starter, completely sabotaged his career here.  Reeves, just a promising freshman at the time, actually benefited from Gordon's dismissal and has been the starter ever since.  How could he not learn from that incident just two years ago?  How can he believe that playing somewhere else other than UCLA would be a better situation for him?  How can he not understand that these 3 issues - Lee and Honeycutt's early departures, the addition of the Wear twins and the need to establish Joshua Smith - means that it will take some time to establish our offensive flow?  And why is he upset if was actually the top scorer in that first game and took more shots than anyone?

Reeves has had a history of having a very poor attitude and taking it out on teammates, notable even from last year and going back to high school.  Howland of course had to suspend Reeves and the conditions for his return are an improvement in, "coachability, attitude, interacting with his teammates, and representing the university the way we expect it to be represented".  I have a feeling Reeves will decide to leave, but I'm hoping for the best.  We could use his toughness inside.

As for our play on the court, we are the most disappointing team in the entire country.  Ranked in the top 20, we've been dominated by two mid-major teams and our problems are much deeper than anyone could have anticipated.

Primarily, our defense was absolutely atrocious.  Middle Tennessee State shot 71.4% from the field (35-49) and an even better 90.9% from the arc (10-11).  In fact, LMU and MTSU have combined to shoot 20-26 on 3s.  In addition to their hot hands, we never closed any of those shooters down and rotated extremely poorly.  Tyler Lamb was supposed to be our best perimeter defender, but he looked like our worst, getting beat time and time again.  On the interior, MTSU was getting layup and layup.  When we did force them to miss the initial shot in the post, we didn't block out their weakside big man, who repeatedly got putback dunks.

Secondly, our perimeter offense has been horrific.  In the first 2 games, we've shot 6-35 from the arc.  17%.  Since our best players are big men, we can expect to see lots of zone defenses and generally lots of congestion inside.  The counter is to simply make outside shots.  That's what teams will give us all year, guaranteed.  Our guards will have to be able to create and finish shots.  Against LMU, Jones was 1-11 from the field overall.  Against MTSU, Lamb was 1-9 while Jones improved to 2-9.  Not acceptable.

Hopefully Reeves returns so that David Wear can return to the 3.  He, along with Jerime Anderson, will probably be our best 3 point threats.  Zeek looks like he's pressing too hard.  He just needs to make the simple pass and take the open shot.  Offensively, we need a lot more movement off the ball.  There needs to be more options than just passing it around the perimeter.  Practice at passing in the post needs to happen too.

The big picture question is if Howland can ever teach a raw team like this an effective offensive system.  In many ways, its seems that his expertise and focus is always on defense, while his offense is somewhat stagnant and way too micromanaged.  UCLA players under Howland seem to rarely improve their offensive skills during their time here.  In fact, it could be argued that his offense is far too reliant upon players' inherent skills to create when all else breaks down.  I always say that Howland just needs a great offensive coordinator.  Perhaps this is a discussion for another time.   

The good news is that this is early in the season and any Howland team can be expected to improve defensively.  He may even have to resort to zone defense if we don't have the team speed to keep up with opposing athletic guards.  But whether this particular team, sans Reeves Nelson or a consistent jumpshooter, can improve enough to contend for a NCAA tourney berth may now be in serious doubt.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NFL Week 11 Predictions

Week 10 Record: 9-7 (freakin NFC West)

Season Record: 97-49

Jets at Broncos - Without a healthy McGahee, this might be end of Tebow's W streak.
Jaguars at Browns - Sorry I forgot about you last week, Mojo.
Panthers at Lions - Stafford suffers his annual injury.  They are downplaying broken finger.
Buccaneers at Packers - Rodgers might be having greatest season in history.
Bills at Dolphins - Teams headed in opposite directions, but I say the Bills get the upset.
Raiders at Vikings - That Ponder's sure got some moxie.  I'll take the chance.
Cowboys at Redskins - 'Boys relying on rookie offensive talent, and its working.
Bengals at Ravens - Beats Pit, loses to Sea, beats Cincy.  sounds about right.
Seahawks at Rams - Whoever's controlling Marshawn Lynch is still holding turbo.
Cardinals at 49ers - Huge win over 6-2 Giants.  Don't look past the Cards.
Titans at Falcons - Horrible decision by Smith on 4th down.  Inexcusable really.
Chargers at Bears - 4 straight loses by Norv Turner's squad will be extended to 5.
Eagles at Giants - I'm still mad that they laid an egg vs Cards and eliminated me in survivor.
Chiefs at Patriots - I'm tired of Gronkowksi.  Get the ball to Welker for fantasy owners everywhere! (Me).

Monday, November 14, 2011

49ers beat NFC rival Giants


The NFC East leader, NY Giants, marched into Candlestick with a 6-2 record, fresh off knocking off the Patriots in New England.  It was hard-fought defensive struggle, but then in essentially 5 plays, the 49ers grabbed momentum and memorably kept their 7 game winning streak intact by winning 27-20.

- The 49ers enter the 4th quarter after just going down 13-12.  Frustratingly not being able to score a TD though being in the redzone all game, Alex Smith exploits a blown coverage and finds Vernon Davis for a 31 yard TD.

- Crabtree comes out of the backfield, streaks toward just inside the right pylon to receive the 2 point conversion for a 7 point lead.

- Ensuing kickoff, the entire special teams unit races downfield like banshees and swarms the returner at the 11 yard line.

- Eli Manning is picked off across the middle by Carlos Rogers at the 34 (Manningham inexplicably cut off his route), who returns it to the 17.

- Very next play, Kendall Hunter scampers into the end zone for a 2 TD lead.

Of course, with 34 seconds left, Justin Smith's 4th down knockdown of Manning's pass after a long 6 minutes drive seals the victory.  But that early 4th quarter sequence, displaying the 49ers' toughness in all 3 facets of the game, was the turning point.

With a commanding 5 game lead in the NFC West for a playoff berth, the 49ers have turned their attention to attaining a 1st round playoff bye.  As they stand at 8-1 (only SF and undefeated GB have less than 3 losses), they are 1.5 games ahead of the 7-3 Saints and 2 games ahead of the 6-3 Giants, Lions and Bears.  And again, SF has only played one divisional game vs NFC West opponents.  Is it possible to avoid midseason letdowns, overconfidence, inevitable injuries (Gore, please be okay) and misfortune and hold onto the 1st round bye?

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011-12 UCLA Basketball Preview


There has seemingly been less anticipation for UCLA Basketball around Westwood leading up to this season.  I think its partly due to the overbearing media attention given to the outrage over Neuheisal's failure to revive our football program, Saturday's victory over ASU notwithstanding, and partly due to the fact that no games will be played at home on campus at Pauley Pavilion as a result of the arena's renovation.

I, of course, am much more concerned with UCLA basketball than football simply because our school is actually invested in basketball's success.  We actually try to win championships in basketball and we can realistically contend for the Pac-12 title.  Why should I get emotionally invested in football when financially, our school isn't (or can't be)?  It's ridiculous to expect great success when we can't afford to pay nationally competitive head coach and assistant coach salaries, especially with the cost of living here in LA.  Plus, I feel a stronger connection to our bball program - sleeping outside Pauley before home games and sitting front row while the likes of Baron Davis was throwing down on the competition.  There's the traditional and historical element.  In bball, we have 11 national titles.  John Wooden's the greatest coach ever in any sport.  Pauley Pavilion is the West Coast mecca of bball.  Do I need to go on?  Don't get me wrong, I love Bruin football, but Bruin basketball will always be paramount for me.

So, even with the disappointing and regrettable early departures of Honeycutt and Lee to the locked-out NBA (my thoughts here), UCLA has still been picked to finish 1st in the new Pac-12.  That perhaps is an indication of the overall weakness of the conference rather than the overall quality of our team.

The fact of the matter remains that we lost 2 of our 4 best players.  Without Honeycutt and Lee, we are now void of experienced perimeter scorers and will struggle to maintain balance in our attack as well as defend opposing perimeter players.  Reminding me of our situation 2 years ago after Jrue Holiday's surprising early defection, we have a shortage of game-proven guards.  Of course, back then we were talking in terms of just having enough usable guards on scholarship in our rotation.  This year, we probably don't have the requisite experienced guard play to advance far in the tournament.

Thinking back to 2 years ago, after Darren Collison and other last vestiges of our Final Four glory years graduated, we were in our rebuilding year (09-10), finishing 5th in conference.  We allowed for that one season knowing that the last time Howland had such a poor year ( his first season at UCLA in 03-04), he directed a young team back into the tournament the next season.  The following season, 05-06, was the beginning of our 3-peat Final Fours.

Last year, we rebounded from the previous rebuilding season by contending for the Pac-10 all the way until the last day, finishing 2nd.  We then made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs.  My point?  This year should've been our Final Four run.  This is the year that we've spent 2 years building toward, since the moment Collison last stepped out of Pauley.  We should be national championship contenders.  And we would've been, had Honeycutt and Lee not derailed Howland's plan and inexplicably left for the professional ranks, disappointingly via the 2nd round, even in the face of a possibly cancelled NBA season.

That may be the big picture outlook, but let's look forward to who will represent UCLA basketball this year.  Undoubtedly, as weak as our backcourt might be, our frontcourt is equally as strong.  Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith are clearly the best players on this team on whom shoulders will we rely on for the bulk of our scoring.  Besides them, we have 4 other big men who have Div 1 experience and create a frontcourt depth likely unchallenged by any in the conference.

In the backcourt, we are led by a senior PG and I hope his solid play this year will make us forget that he was a juco transfer.  After him, we have 4 question marks at guard.  Will PG Jerime Anderson build on his much improved play from off the bench last year, or will his off-court misdiscretion haunt his last year?  Will sophomore Tyler Lamb step into the limelight and show that he can stick a jumper and defensively to his man?  Will freshmen Norman Powell's athleticism translate into minutes?  Is juco transfer De'End Parker even any good?

Also, will Howland's experiment in using a 6-10 big man in David Wear at SF work to our size advantage, or to our defensive speed disadvantage?  I have honestly not seen a college team find much success using 3 big men on the court.  There is only so much real estate inside.  Instead, usually teams default to a 3 guard lineup, preferring speed and athleticism.  However, I've yet to see the Wears play with my own eyes, so I'm holding out hope that they're freakishly athletic with consistent downtown range to boot.

Lastly, how will our team respond to essentially having zero home games?  Seeing as we're not even close to the dominant team in conference, this road season will probably have a major effect on our team, making it difficult for me to see why the media has picked UCLA as conference favorites.  Aside from that, I'm again just glad our players had the chance to experience that kind of win over Arizona in their last home game.  For Lazeric and a few others, that was the last time they would play in Pauley.

That said, we haven't won a conference title since Kevin Love's single season 07-08.  Its time.  Let's Go Bruins

These will be our main contributors:


Point Guard

Lazeric Jones, Sr, 6-1
The lone returning perimeter starter was hampered by hand injuries last year and he didn't finish out the season as strongly as he could have.  PG is the ultra-important position in Howland's offenses but since he does not possess the NBA kind of talent that we've had in the last decade, Zeek's focus will be slightly different.  In addition to being the main perimeter playmaker, he will also have to be the calming and consistent influence on an otherwise immature perimeter crew.  Feeding Josh and Reeves inside will be his primary goal.  Being able to stick a consistent outside jumper would be a plus.  I think Zeek is well primed to have an excellent senior season.

Jerime Anderson, Sr, 6-2
Had Jerime worked his behind off going into his sophomore year, we'd probably would have never even heard of Lazeric Jones.  The job was gift-wrapped for him when Jrue defected, but he completely and utterly wasted his chance.  Then, shocking everyone last season, his turnaround performance off the bench was gave us great hope that this year's perimeter void would not be so cavernous.  He was essentially our best 3 point shooter and he even did it in the clutch.  Then, the curse of the laughable titled fab five recruiting class struck again, and deceived Jerime into somehow thinking that stealing a macbook was a brilliant idea.  How that affects his season after his two game suspension will be key to our team.  At the end of last year, I thought that Jerime would be our SG starter in the backcourt, along with playing backup minutes at PG.  Clearly now, Howland never intended to do that, but its unquestionable that Jerime will be the first G off the bench.


Shooting Guard

Tyler Lamb, So, 6-4
It was a relatively disappointing freshman season for Tyler, as Jerime took most of the bench minutes at guard.  But in just over 12 minutes per game, Tyler shot only 33% from the field and a horrific 20% from the arc.  Not good enough for this season's likely starter at SG.  In the offseason, he's been working at eliminating a side spin in his shooting motion.  But Howland has given him the starting job because of his defensive abilities, and the fact that he's got a couple inches on Jerime.  Based on his humble attitude and desire to get better, I think we'll see a big improvement from Tyler this year.   



Norman Powell, Fr, 6-3
Youtube is full of athletic highlights from this leaper but the stereotype of great athletes excelling in high school basketball without ever needing to learn strong fundamentals is probably true with Norman.  He likely won't see a lot of minutes as he learns proper defensive skills and how to run offensive sets.  At least he's at the best place to learn fundamentals, and he seems to have the right mindset about it.


Guard/Forward

De'End Parker, Jr, 6-6
Howland's 2nd juco transfer in two years, De'End will have the chance to compete for minutes at SF, especially if David Wear can't guard faster and more athletic opponents.  Though he played big minutes previously at PG for SF city college, he can now concentrate on the wing.  I like his size, but with his recent injury, we won't really know his true skill set and how big of a contributor he might be this year.  I do know this: we could really use a slashing scorer from the perimeter. 


Forward

David Wear, Rd So, 6-10
Ahh, the Wear twins.  Apparently, they are both fairly complete and versatile basketball players.  They can shoot from the outside, score in the paint, pass and handle like guards and have high basketball IQ.  Hey, anyone that was slated for big minutes at UNC as Roy Williams recently stated, has my vote of confidence.  The big question continues to be whether or not David can defend smaller and quicker opponents.  With the lack of experience on the perimeter, let's hope Howland's gamble pays off.  Of course, Howland has seen the twins in practice for an entire season already.  Its rumored that the twins are consistently among the best practice players.


Power Forward

Reeves Nelson, Jr, 6-8
Reeves is the 3 year-startin', inside-bangin', passion-inspirin', undisputed heart and soul of our team.  He is a tornado of desire, though undersized (probably closer to 6-6 than anyone would like to admit) but has great hands for rebounding and inside scoring.  It is a testament to his commitment that he can consistently put up nearly 14 points and 9 rebounds a game.  Defensively, even though sometimes at a severe height disadvantage, he's been able to lock down guys like #1 overall pick, Derrick Williams and Kansas' 7 footer Cole Aldrich.  With Josh Smith inevitably taking a bigger inside scoring role this year, Reeves might not be our first post option, but will be freed up to create havoc on the weak side.  In our only exhibition, he actually drained two 3 pointers, which was astounding to me, considering he only made 4 all of last year.  Ask me in 10 games whether or not I believe he's really added an outside jumper.  A bigger point of improvement would be if he could maintain his focus and intensity, even if things don't go his way early.

Travis Wear, Rd So, 6-10
The twins have refused to elaborate as to why they decided to leave UNC after just one year.  I'm still a little uncomfortable with accepting guys that abruptly left a solid basketball program without great reason, but based on their reputation and work ethic, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.  This is clearly different from the Larry Drew situation, which bothers me to no end.  Travis will actually be our starter at C even though the bulk of the minutes will belong to big Joshua Smith.  Howland intends to keep Joshua from picking up early cheap fouls.  However, Travis will likely get the majority of the minutes after Reeves and Josh.  Here's hoping that his versatility is accompanied by physical toughness on the interior.

Brendan Lane, Jr, 6-9
I like Brendan.  As I stated last year, I wish he would have transferred after last season so that he could find some playing time in Div 1 somewhere.  Between the Wears and Stover, I just don't see how Lane will get any minutes this year.  Nelson and Smith will get about 30 min each and the other 20 min at PF/C will clearly get divided by T. Wear and Stover.  But I'll admit that its a credit to him that he's willing to stay and compete.  Still, for a 4 star HS recruit, he has been a mild disappointment.


Center

Joshua Smith, So, 6-9
If all things go accordingly, I won't expect Josh to ever set foot in Pauley again.  This should be his breakout year and his NBA stock should be very high next June.  He will be the focal point of our offense, the primary option, and the go-to-guy down the stretch.  He'll take the most shots, get fouled the most and open up the floor for everyone else.  Especially without Honeycutt or Lee this year, our Pac-12 hopes lay on our frontcourt strength, and therefore mostly on his massive shoulders.  He will have the most to do to make up for the 16 points per game we lost to the NBA.  This past offseason, we were all just hoping that he's improved his conditioning, added a few more post moves, and worked on his FT shooting nonstop.  It's his time.  I'm expecting something around 18 points, 10 boards a game, (compared to only 11 points and 6 boards in 22 min last year).  And please don't commit cheap fouls.  And while I'm at it, come back next year too, please?

Anthony Stover, So, 6-10
An instinctive shotblocker, we'll be relying on Stover's length to spell Josh Smith and guard the paint.  Any scoring from putbacks would be a bonus.  However, I would like to see a big improvement in terms of rebounding.  He only averaged 1.5 boards per 8 min last season.  Also, he needs to work on his footwork and lateral mobility to become a truly effective man on man defender.


Starters:
PG Lazeric Jones
SG Tyler Lamb
SF David Wear
PF Reeves Nelson
C Travis Wear*

Bench: C *Josh Smith (de facto starter), PG Jerime Anderson, G/F De'End Parker, C Anthony Stover

Limited minutes: PF Brendan Lane, SG Norman Powell
Our true rotation will probably end up being 9 strong, with these two only receiving scrap minutes, barring injury.


So, no more excuses.  I recognize that Arizona is in reality the actual favorite for the Pac-12 this year.  I know we don't have homecourt advantage this year, ever.  But I don't care.  Let's win our conference.  Let's make a solid run in the tournament.  And, should everyone stay another year, let's win a national championship in 2013!


*****************************************************************
Two 2012 Recruits Signed!

Yesterday, Howland signed two big time recruits on the first official day of signing day.  Without question, his hiring of East coast AAU coach, Korey McCray, is revolutionizing UCLA's recruiting nationally.  There isn't any reason why we aren't in the running for the best players nationwide, just as UNC, Duke and Kentucky perenially are.  Hopefully we move in that direction, especially with the new and improved Pauley Pavilion opening next year as another draw.  That said, its also disappointing that Arizona can continuously come into southern California and steal blue chippers right from our backyard.

Kyle Anderson, PG/SF, 6-8
Kyle is a point forward and has been rated as high as the #2 overall recruit by Rivals.com.  (Scout.com has him at #4).  He would be the highest ranked recruit we've had here since Jrue Holiday 2008 and Kevin Love 2007.  This is a major get for Howland for several reasons.  First, he's from New Jersey, not exactly a part of the country where we've made major in-roads.   In the past, we've concentrated on snagging the best West coast recruits.  Secondly, he's an elite PG - the likes of which we haven't been able to lure here since Jrue Holiday.  Howland has churned out NBA point guard, one after another (Farmar, Westbrook, Collison, even Holiday) and it took 4 years to get another great PG here?  What are kids thinking?  Howland has already essentially handed him the 2012 starting PG job.  Lastly, and I love this part the most, he's here to learn to play defense from Howland.  Will he stay for more than 1 year?

Jordan Adams, SF, 6-5
The direct result of hiring Korey McCray was signing his AAU 4-star recruit, Jordan Adams, our first 2012 commitment.   Not a high flyer, but he's a strong, versatile and skilled scorer - the opposite of Norm Powell, I suppose.  He kind of reminds me of a James Harden-type player.

Howland expects to sign possibly 2 more to this class.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NFL Week 10 Predictions

Week 9 Record: 9-5

Season Record: 88-42

Raiders at Chargers - Rivers, for the sake of fantasy owners everywhere, stop throwing picks.
Saints at Falcons - Tough games throughout the entire sched.  Going with home team.
Steelers at Bengals - Going with road team to recover from Ravens loss.
Rams at Browns - Hillis isn't even hiding the fact that success went to his head.
Bills at Cowboys - Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson are both in a funk.
Jaguars at Colts - Could this be the week?  Yes.
Broncos at Chiefs - KC's performance was just pathetic.  At least Tebow will put in the effort.
Redskins at Dolphins - Miami on a winning streak!
Cardinals at Eagles - Shocking 4th qtr capitulation to Chi. Not who we thought they were.
Texans at Buccaneers - Arian Foster says he's finally all the way back.  Good enough for me.
Titans at Panthers - I see a Cam Newton highlight fest here.
Ravens at Seahawks - John, do it for your brother.
Lions at Bears - Forte's gonna be ticked he fumbled twice.  Chicago wins a close one.
Giants at 49ers - NY can't stop the run.  At least I hope not. 
Patriots at Jets - Two teams going in opposite directions, but I ain't picking Brady to lose 3.
Vikings at Packers - Easiest pick of the week by far.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Galaxy advance to MLS Finals


In a sweet revenge game, the Galaxy overcame Real Salt Lake, 3-1, in the Western Conference Finals to reach their 7th MLS Cup.  RSL had beat LA two years ago on penalties to win the championship.  Looking at the Galaxy's playoff history, there has been far more heartbreak than success.

LA has only won the MLS Cup twice, 2002 and 2005, even though they've won their regular season western conference a total of 7 times, including in both the last 2 years.  In the championship game itself, they've lost 4 times ('96, '99, '01 '09).  Even with Beckham on the squad, they just hadn't been able to breakthrough.  Last year, they lost in the conference final to Dallas, just short of another MLS Cup appearance.

Now, having won the Western Conference for the 3rd consecutive year, they will be heavily favored to beat Houston in the November 20th 2011 MLS Cup and finally validate Donovan and Beckham's years with the Galaxy.

Last night, LA scored its 3 goals in an oh-so-fitting manner.  Landon drove home a decisive penalty in an ugly 1st half - much of which I couldn't see because of the poor quality of ESPN's broadcast.  Beckham, man of the match in my book, hustled up and down the field to alternately defend and create great scoring opportunities - the best of his inch-perfect crosses resulted in a easy header for Magee, placed mere feet in front of RSL's keeper.  That was the game-winner, but the emphatic victory bell was rung by Robbie Keane, who raced toward goal with 1 defender to beat, stopped on a dime, pulled the ball back behind him as the defender skidded on helplessly, then lashed the ball home far post with the air of European superiority.  Here's hoping Keane returns from his Euro Cup qualifiers injury free.


Random MLS Thoughts

- MLS Playoffs are truly ridiculous both in format and in timing.  They've packed in the first 3 complete rounds of playoffs (possibly 4 games for a single wildcard team) into a 12 day period (Oct 26 - Nov 6).  Now, there's a 14 day layoff between the conference finals and the MLS Cup (Nov 20).  Huh?

Secondly, why is the wildcard round, the conference finals and MLS Cup all single game elimination, while the conference semifinals is a 2 legged series?  Ridiculous.  I say eliminate wildcards, start with 8 teams, make all rounds 2 legged series and have a 3 game MLS Final series.  4 days rest between each game.

Or you could simply have two groups of 4 play round robin, twice.  Top two teams play the MLS Cup 3 game series.


- Dirty Rafa Marquez was there showing his true self again.  After the Red Bulls' first leg home defeat to the Galaxy, Marquez threw the ball at Landon, tried to headbutt Adam Cristman, then punched him, then faked an injury to his face and fell to the ground in fake agony.  It was the perfect summation of Marquez - hatred of players who play fair, cowardly unprovoked attack, dirty infliction of pain, then shameless simulation of injury.  What a disgrace.  Ironically, his subsequent red card enabled a solid performance by the NY defense in the 2nd leg.  He also didn't get called into Mexico's next friendly. 


US Soccer Roster Thoughts

- Klinsmann again refused to bring in new CB recruits for December camp, instead sticking with the obviously failing Orozco Fiscal.  I am no huge fan of Omar Gonzalez but it couldn't hurt to give him a runout.  Not bringing in George John, even though he's coveted by several EPL teams, continues to be a huge question mark.  The main point is simply that we were in great need of youthful blood in our defense, made obvious in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann has really done little to improve us there.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

UCLA 29 over (#19) ASU 28, Boys 1st game


Took my sons to their first UCLA football game on Saturday.  When I initially chose this game, I didn't realize that ASU was probably the best team in the South div and that this was a likely loss.  But, it worked well in our schedule.

Of course, it turned out to be the best game possible.  Even the rain let up on Sat just for this game.  The only downside was the cold.  By the 4th quarter, we had both boys in their thermals, (jerseys), sweatshirts, and thick winter jacket.  And beanies.  And gloves.  It had to be in the 40s by the time we left.

Since my eldest has been reading a book about Joe Bruin going to the Rose Bowl for a football game for probably over a year now, he had been adequately hyped up for this event.  The marching band did not disappoint.  He also liked the giant lettered flags U-C-L-A.  Also the U-S-A ones (asu backwards, not that I corrected him).  Oh, and the endless snacks that mommy brought.  As for the game, he probably liked the kickoffs more than anything else.

We ended up leaving early 4th quarter since the boys were restless and actually already sick going into the game.  The cold was definitely not helpful.  As far as we're concerned, we actually won 23-21, haha.  Though it would have been nice to be there for the end, the reality is we would've been there for at least an additional hour and a half (30 min gametime, 45 min of pandemonium getting out of Bowl, 30-60 min drive out of parking lot) - not a great idea for parents with two toddlers.

So, what was noteworthy about the game itself?

- Kevin Prince dug himself out of my doghouse.  He was decisive and reasonably accurate with his throws.  His pump fake got Nelson Rosario completely open for the easiest 76 yard TD you'll ever see.  But his 30 yard back shoulder 1st down throw on the game-winning drive to Rosario was the throw of his career.  I keep wondering how long Prince will stay healthy, rushing so many times each game.  I guess it'll be great while he lasts.

- Derrick Coleman was in beast mode, tallying up 119 yards, 2 TDs, including 62 yards on the game-winning drive.

- The Bruins defense was still porous, but at least rested by a few of the offenses' long time-consuming drives.

- We really like to fumble.  4 times in fact, recovering only 2.  

- We had a shocking halftime lead.  And a lead at the end of 3.  And we didn't buckle even after a fumble (and subsequent missed asu fg), needing a TD with minutes left.

As for the season outlook, I think we will be hard-pressed to finish out with 3 straight wins.  We are not a team of consistency.  We do not play good defense, nor do we tackle well.  Our offense is the opposite of explosive and it would be near impossible for us to win if we ever get behind by a couple scores.

But, on paper, we're in the driver's seat.  If we win out (@Utah, Colorado, @sc), we'll be in the Pac-12 championship game vs Stanford/Oregon.  Win that, we're in a BCS bowl.  Crazy talk I know.  But at least we've got something to talk about.

I'm really happiest most for our players.  This was a signature victory for our seniors - one that they will remember always - as will my family, in our first Bruin game ever.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NFL Week 9 Predictions

Week 8 Record: 8-5

Season Record: 79-37

Jets at Bills - Sanchez and company are horrible on the road.
Seahawks at Cowboys - Dallas gets back on track at Jerrysworld.
Falcons at Colts - I could see an upset here, but I'm not predicting it.
Dolphins at Chiefs - The AFC West race is up for grabs after Rivers' fumble.
Buccaneers at Saints - Brees rights the ship by finding Graham again.
49ers at Redskins - 9ers, please don't read press clippings.  Focus!  Magic # is 6.
Browns at Texans - The annual Houston implosion shouldn't start yet.
Bengals at Titans - Tough game to call.  I'm going with the Cincy D.
Broncos at Raiders - Another tough one.  I'm taking a chance on Tebow.
Giants at Patriots - Belicheat and Brady are ticked.  Look out.
Rams at Cardinals - Hmm, is it possible that both teams lose?
Packers at Chargers - Undefeated.  Did you know the 9ers are the only 1 loss team?
Ravens at Steelers - Big Ben's offense is a little more potent than Flacco's.
Bears at Eagles - Philly strings together two good games.


Midseason Playoff Predictions

AFC East: New England
AFC North: Pittsburgh
AFC South: Houston
AFC West: Chargers
Wildcards: Baltimore, Buffalo

NFC East: Philadelphia
NFC North: Green Bay
NFC South: New Orleans
NFC West: San Francisco
Wildcards: Detroit, Atlanta

Pittsburgh's statement win vs New England wins my AFC North vote.  I don't yet believe that a rookie QB can lead Cincinnati to the promised land over Baltimore, but who knows?  Houston should have the weapons to pull away from Tennessee, while the Chargers recover from Rivers' early season malaise and climb out of the AFC West muck.

With the Giants' ridiculously tough schedule remaining (only 1 game vs a team with a losing record left - Philadelphia!), I'm guessing that they falter while Philly builds on its Dallas domination.  Atlanta just barely grabs that last wildcard spot.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NFL Week 8 Predictions

Week 7 Record: 9-4

Season Record: 71-32

Colts at Titans - Both teams were blown out but only the Titans have something to play for.
Saints at Rams - How could my preseason NFC West pick have regressed so much since '10?
Dolphins at Giants - Bushleague throwing his team under the bus puts a smile on my face.
Vikings at Panthers - Cam's inch-perfect bomb to Steve Smith in Wk 7 - sick.
Cardinals at Ravens - Putrid MNF showing by offense.  Why not use Ray Rice more?
Jaguars at Texans - Arian Foster is baaaack.
Redskins at Bills - The Bills' offense finds its groove again.
Lions at Broncos - Tebow would really enrage his critics with a W but Det won't lose 3 straight.
Patriots at Steelers - Pittsburgh has lost to the two best teams they've played so far.
Browns at 49ers - Many writers have SF ranked in the top 4.  Everyone needs to calm down...
Bengals at Seahawks - Rootin for Cincy, but Seattle finds a way to win in an ugly one.
Cowboys at Eagles - Vick and McCoy are refreshed after bye.
Chargers at Chiefs - SD works on 2 min drill and avoids Raider-like turnovers to win.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NFL Week 7 Predictions

Week 6 Record: 11-2

Season Record: 62-28

Seahawks at Browns - What's cheatey petey's deal?  Losing.
Falcons at Lions - Hey Schwartz.  Scoreboard.  This could be a trap game...
Texans at Titans - Schaub redeems himself from that awful game-ending pass vs Raidas.
Broncos at Dolphins - Most watched game between combined 1-9 records teams ever.  Tebow!
Chargers at Jets - Jets were not impressive on MNF vs Dolphins team who clearly wants Luck.
Bears at Buccaneers - I'm a man, I'm Forte.
Redskins at Panthers - Now there's the Grossman we know and love.
Chiefs at Raiders - How can I possibly dislike the Raiders more?  Oh, they picked up Palmer.
Steelers at Cardinals - C'mon Pittsburgh, put the Cardinals farther in the NFC West hole.
Rams at Cowboys - Lloyd makes some of the most outrageous catches you'll ever see.
Packers at Vikings - Pathetic how far McNabb has fallen.  Benched twice.
Colts at Saints - Payton's injury should make Peyton feel so much better about himself.
Ravens at Jaguars - I feel for Mojo Drew and Marcedes Lewis.  Freakin trojan, Jack del Rio.

Monday, October 17, 2011

49ers 5-1, back in national spotlight!


The 49ers have gone 8 straight seasons since their last playoff appearance - back in 2002 with Mariucci/Garcia/TO/Hearst.  During those eight years, we've gone through Erickson, Nolan and Singletary as head coaches, and outside of an 8-8 record in 2009, they never even had a .500 record, averaging less than 6 wins a year.  In comparison, from 1981 (when Montana took over as QB) to 2002 (when Mariucci got let go), they made the playoffs 18 out of 22 years.  (We had double digit regular season wins 19 times, but missed out in 1991 - the season Montana and Young were both hurt and Bono won 5 games en route to 10 wins, but lost to the Falcons in a head to head tiebreaker.)

All that to say, it is all at once surprising, amazing and refreshing to see the 49ers at 5-1, coming off a big win over an undefeated team (even if it is the upstart Lions).  They are finally, once again, the biggest story in the NFL, even if it is just week 7.

There were several moments in yesterday's game that made me think that the clock had indeed struck midnight and we were about to return to the mediocrity of the last 8 years.

- First moment, when Vanden Bosch raced around our LT and strip-sacked Alex Smith and recovered the fumble in one seemingly fatal swoop on our very first play from scrimmage.  Smith was confidently winding up to throw deep at that moment - perhaps Harbaugh's design to grab the game by the scruff of its neck.

- 2nd moment, after two straight punts, the Lions drive for a TD, going up 10-0.  Harbaugh makes the mistake of throwing a challenge flag even though every score is reviewed automatically by the league.  This has the unintended positive consequence of causing Schwartz to act up and therefore firing up Harbaugh and the niners.

- 3rd moment.  After Detroit takes the early 3rd quarter lead, Crabtree toe-tapping efforts are ruled a no catch and Delanie Walker drops a relatively easy TD catch.  SF settles for a FG.

- 4th moment.  The pressure starts to mount on Alex Smith as the Lions' d-line is closing in.  His passes have started sailing and one overshoots Crabtree and lands in the arms of Lions saftey, Spievey.  This seems to be the momentum grabber that the home team needs.  Is this the Alex Smith of the past rearing his head?  Will this crush the delicate confidence that Harbaugh has built in him the last few months?  Is this where the 49ers fairytale season goes bad?

- 5th moment.  Early 4th quarter, Stafford throws what should be a ridiculously uncontroversial TD pass but is for some reason initially called incomplete for a 19-15 lead.  The 49ers, having managed only 1 TD on the day will need not just a score, but a TD to win.


But in the last 8 minutes, down 4 points:

- Aldon Smith sacks Matt Stafford for loss of 18, eventually forcing a punt.

- Ted Ginn returns a punt 40 yards, back to the (original line of scrimmage at) Det 35 yard line.

- Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore combine for three 9 yard gashing runs.

- On 4th down and goal, after a poor 3rd down incomplete pass, Alex Smith throws a dart to Delanie Walker (who dropped an easier TD pass earlier) on a quick slant.  I could tell right away that his knee was close to being down and that it would be reviewed.  I couldn't even celebrate the TD.  But replays were conclusive.  His knee was thisclose, but not down.  TD!


- 49ers pass D causes Stafford to throw incompletions on 2nd, 3rd and 4th down.  Nothing for you, Megatron!

- Akers nails a 37 yard FG after the 49ers force the Lions to use all 3 timeouts.

- Anthony Davis saves Detroit coach Jim Schwartz's life by getting between Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh.  haha.

Harbaugh may have been overly excited about the win and probably should have calmed down for the 5 seconds it would have taken for the customary coaches handshake, but Schwartz's furious reaction was downright childish and laughable.  Hey Schwartz, you got a handshake, now go lick your wounds.  And next time, how about you try not to taunt the opposing coach in the middle of the game.  Scoreboard.

Back to the 49ers - this was the biggest game in many, many years.  One interesting article I read said that Harbaugh was simply better at being Singletary than Singletary was.  Simply put: run the ball, play solid D, and make sure your QB doesn't turn it over.  Some interviews (of which there were many - I heard two 49ers on national radio on the way to work today) have shed some light on the change Harbaugh brought to the team.  Delanie Walker disclosed that many players were selfish last year.  But Harbaugh, for example, built team chemistry by insisting on roommates in camp and on the road, even for veterans.  He disallowed headphones and demanded players to eat with teammates they didn't know and learn new things about each other.  And as with any good leader, Harbaugh doesn't hold himself completely at arm's length from his team and they love him for it.  I wonder how well he will do when he gets a real offseason to truly prepare.

However, the rush to suddenly proclaim SF the possible #2 seed in the NFC with first round bye, is a bit premature.  Let's get to 8 wins first or whatever is enough to win this weak division.  As with nearly every team, everyone in every season has some lulls, a bad patch and some unlucky injuries.  Let's see if we're still the talk of the league in another 6 weeks.  But for now, I can once again dare to dream about Superbowls, can't I?