Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm still not buying the hype regarding Georgia winning the 2008 college football title

Since I have already been writing some opinions regarding the SEC and teams outside the conference, I thought I would revisit what I wrote about Georgia back in March.

My feelings now are as strong as they were back then.

Almost since the end of the 2007 college football season, a lot of experts have been touting the Georgia Bulldogs as a national championship contender in 2008. The Bulldogs completed last season with a flourish and stomped Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.

Several of the college football preview magazines have them ranked number one, and the ones that don't have them ranked near the top.

I concede the Bulldogs will enter the 2008 season with a lot of momentum, and they also have the luxury of having most of their starters back from last year. However, they will not win the national championship.

Why? Because their schedule is too tough.

Here it is:

August 30 -- Georgia Southern
September 6 -- Central Michigan
September 13 -- at South Carolina
September 20 -- at Arizona State
September 27 -- Alabama
October 11 -- Tennessee
October 18 -- Vanderbilt
October 25 -- at LSU
November 1 -- Florida (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
November 8 -- at Kentucky
November 15 -- at Auburn
November 29 -- Georgia Tech

That is a brutal schedule, and it is not set up for a national championship run. There are at least two losses on that schedule. I know LSU won the title last year with two losses, but that was the exception rather than the rule. It won't happen again soon.

Six of the Bulldogs games are against teams that have head coaches who have won national championships (South Carolina, Arizona State, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, and Florida). The Bulldogs picked the wrong year to have LSU come onto their schedule. In consecutive weeks they play at LSU then must play Florida.

Sorry, Georgia fans. Your team may be great this year but you will be lucky to win the SEC championship much less the national title.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I know you've heard this a thousand times, but...

The Dark Knight is a great film, and if you are among the 12 people who haven't seen it yet, please do so (click here for a complete review).

Of all the Batman films made over the last couple of decades, I think this one stands head and shoulders above them all. I had always given the edge to Tim Burton's original Batman, but The Dark Knight is much better.

Some critics have carped that it is too long, but I don't feel that way at all. The two-and-a-half hours flew by, and all the actor's performances perfectly matched the tone set by the filmmakers. It's too bad Heath Ledger died, because I would have loved to have seen him play the Joker again.

This film is first rate and worthy of Oscar consideration.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting back a good name

To paraphrase an old saying, when somebody ruins their reputation by making bad decisions, it takes an awful lot of hard work for them to get back their good name.

I believe most of us would agree with that. After all, all of us have seen examples where a lifetime of good deeds done by a person is tainted by a few bad choices.

But what about people who did nothing wrong but their reputations got tarnished just because they were a victim of circumstance? We live in a society where it is becoming more common for people to be convicted in the court of public opinion long before all the facts are known.

An excellent example of this involved the circumstances surrounding the murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey in 1996. The child beauty queen was found murdered in her family's home and for years a cloud of suspicion covered members of her family.

This was a crime that was right up the alley of our 24-hour-a-day news cycle world. The crime had a little bit of everything. Beauty, wealth, sex, mystery, and intrigue were all important ingredients of what fed the public's interest in this story.

JonBenet's parents and her older brother were the primary targets of the investigation. The Boulder, Colo., district attorney's office made no secret of their thoughts regarding the family's possible involvement in this crime.

The nightly cable news talk shows frequently packed their programs with endless speculation about who might have murdered her.

However, despite all the speculation and leaks to the media, nobody in the family was ever charged. To this date, nobody has been brought to trial for this crime.

Finally, after almost 12 years, officials in Boulder recently cleared the family of any wrongdoing by using new technology on crime scene evidence.

Prosecutors announced that they were "deeply sorry" for anything they might have done to put the family under a cloud of suspicion.

For anybody who remembers the hysteria that surrounded this case a decade ago, a simple "I'm sorry" seems a little weak.

The apology can't help JonBenet's mother Patsy who died a few years ago of cancer.

Also, what about JonBenet's brother? He was only nine when his sister died, and he certainly had to have been aware of the speculation that he was involved in her death.

How deeply does a young boy get scarred when people speak about him in such a way? I would imagine it cut him up in ways that we will never know.

The media's reaction to the apology was fascinating and understated. Most major media outlets had no problem exploiting the story when it first occurred. A person could not turn on the television without seeing some type of discussion on the case.

However, the reporting of the apology barely caused a ripple on the media landscape. There was some discussion of it, but it came and went as quickly as last week's rain.

So what does this all mean?

We all need to do a better job of understanding the facts of a situation before convicting a person in the court of public opinion.

Because of the rush to judgment involving the Ramsey family, many will only remember the shadow that was cast upon them and not the apology they received.

Unfortunately, we see situations like this all the time, especially in a presidential election season.

Candidates sling mud at each other and people form opinions based on the mud instead of what the facts are.

And that is truly dangerous.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mississippi State to take small step backward this year

Last year, Mississippi State was the feel good story of the SEC football season. Head coach Sylvester Croom had worked hard during his first three seasons to rebuild the program, but he had enjoyed little success. However, in 2007, an early season upset at Auburn sparked the team. The Bulldogs finished 8-5, including a win in the Liberty Bowl.

If the Bulldogs want to match that accomplishment, they must get better on offense. Running back Anthony Dixon ran for more than 1,000 yards last year, but he needs help. Wesley Carroll will likely get the nod at quarterback, but he was inconsistent last year. The Bulldogs finished 113th in the nation in passing offense last year.

This year, the Bulldogs will not sneak up on anybody. Auburn visits Starkville on September 13 and will be looking for payback for last years upset. Additionally, they have a difficult road schedule with visits to Georgia Tech, LSU, Tennessee, Alabama, and Ole Miss.

Though the Bulldogs will remain a solid squad this year, they won't win eight games. This season will likely be a small step backward, and it all relates back to the offense. Until that unit gets better, we may have already seen the best Mississippi State has to offer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kentucky will return to its normal status in the SEC this year

For a while last year, it was as if SEC football fans had fallen asleep and awakened in the Bizarro World. Kentucky had just beaten LSU and climbed into the top 10. Of course, the dream didn't come true. The Wildcats lost some close games down the stretch and finished 8-5.

By Kentucky standards, it was an above average year. Now, the Wildcats will attempt to repeat the trick. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening because they lost their most significant weapon from last year.

Quarterback Andre Woodson was the heart, soul, and everything else for Kentucky. He elevated the play of everybody around him, and there doesn't appear to be anyone who can replace him. Curtis Pulley and Mike Hartline will compete for the starting job once practice begins, but most observers agree they are not in Woodson's league.

Kentucky's most important game will likely be on October 11 when they host South Carolina. The winner of that game will likely finish fourth in the SEC Eastern Division. This is about the most Kentucky can hope for this year.

They play a tough road schedule, visiting Louisville, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, and Tennessee.

Of course, by mid-October most UK fans will turn their attention to basketball anyway. This is the fate of football programs at schools dominated by basketball (see North Carolina, Indiana, etc.).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tony Snow was great, too

The last few weeks have been emotional ones within the ranks of the national media community.

Last month, NBC's Tim Russert died of a heart attack, leaving that network with a gaping hole when it comes to its political coverage.

Then, Tony Snow, who was best known for his work on Fox News and as President Bush's press secretary, died last week of cancer at age 53. Snow had battled the disease for the last few years and had to leave the Bush administration in 2007 because of the illness.

Though the styles of the two differed, they also had similarities that resulted in both being among the best in the business.

Both men were known for being upbeat, but the way they projected themselves was often quite different.

When watching Russert, his eyes twinkled when he questioned public figures, and the enthusiasm he had for his craft often appeared like a big ball of energy that he could barely keep contained.

Snow, on the hand, appeared much more laid back. There was a calmness and gentleness to his demeanor that was very appealing.

In an age where "in-your-face" media coverage is all the rage, Snow was a refreshing departure from that. True, he was very adept at sparring with the media when he was press secretary, but there was a dignity to his approach that set him apart.

'Gentleness' is an adjective that is rarely used when describing a journalist, but I believe it was an important ingredient in what made him so successful. When he worked at Fox News, he could grill a politician as expertly as Russert did. However, it was usually done in a gracious way that allowed his guest to make his point and allowed the audience to make up its own mind on the issue being discussed.

Unfortunately, our society really doesn't understand what gentleness means. To many, gentleness is seen as a weakness that means a person is soft or wishy-washy.

Of course, that isn't the case at all. In many cases, being gentle in a situation requires intense emotional strength and discipline. However, we don't see a lot of that in the media and society.

The reason much of the media has embraced the "in-your-face" approach is because it is a reflection of our culture. We love confrontation and controversy.

Because of this, deep and thoughtful discussions on important issues are often brushed aside so we can all focus on whatever the scandal of the day is.

Snow was truly unique. Though his career blossomed in arenas associated with Republicans, he was also respected for the independent way that he questioned politicians and reported stories. This is a trait that he shared with Russert who began his career in Democratic politics.

With the deaths of these two, their approaches to informing the public may slowly be going the way of the dinosaur. Though that analogy may be a little over the top, there can be no denying their approaches are occupying a smaller and smaller portion of the media landscape.

Many news programs contain only a few minutes of news and devote most of the program to "commentary" that is slanted toward a particular ideology.

Though there are programs that pander to both conservatives and liberals, the worst examples of this can be found on the MSNBC network. When it isn't showing re-runs of To Catch a Predator or prison documentaries, it presents programs so slanted that it is obvious who they favor and who they do not.

And we all suffer because of it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

'Caddyshack II' is the worst film I've ever seen

Frequent readers of this blog know that I do not review films. There are thousands of places on the internet where a person can go and get a movie review. However, after stumbling across Caddyshack II while channel surfing, I have to warn you about this film.

I hate this film.

Sequels are always an iffy proposition, but this flick sets the standard for lame follow-ups. Let me make myself clear....I HATE THIS FILM....DON'T WASTE TWO HOURS OF YOUR LIFE ON IT....I'M NOT KIDDING.

You've been warned. This film will suck the marrow right out of your bones.

It's the cinematic version of a tick.

Please heed this warning.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Notre Dame won't return to glory this season, but will go to a bowl

From a negative standpoint, Notre Dame's 3-9 record was the biggest story of the 2007 college football season.

In his first two seasons there, head coach Charlie Weis earned kudos for leading the Fighting Irish to nine- and 10-win seasons. Led by quarterback Brady Quinn and other players recruited by previous coach Tyrone Willingham, Weis delivered a lot of wins.

However, last year, it all fell apart. While most experts expected Notre Dame to go through a transitional year, nobody expected the program's complete collapse. The Irish's three wins came against teams with a combined 11-26 record, and they were humiliated by rivals Michigan and USC.

This year should be a true indicator of where Weis is taking the program. He no longer has Willingham's players to lean on. This is his fourth season as head coach so the players we will see were recruited by him.

On the bright side, I don't think it is possible for Notre Dame to be as bad as they were last year. At times, they were embarrassingly pitiful. The offensive line gave up nearly 60 sacks, and the defense got worn down late in games because the offense could not sustain drives. Just because of experience gained by those players, Notre Dame will win more than they did last year.

The schedule also eases up this year. Notre Dame plays four of its first five games at home. The Irish should win the opener against San Diego State to avoid starting the season with a long losing streak like last year. However, if the Aztecs were to somehow upset them, the turf on Notre Dame Stadium may actually open up and swallow the entire Irish team.

Look for them to finish that early five-game stretch with a 3-2 record (I think they will also beat Purdue and Stanford). However, the Irish hit the road for four of their next five games. One of those games will be at Washington against former coach Willingham. If nothing else, the week leading up to that game should be spicy.

Despite all that, Notre Dame should be able to win six or seven games and go to a bowl.

The Irish will take a small step forward this year. But at programs like Notre Dame, small steps often aren't enough.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ole Miss will be the surprise team of the SEC in 2008

The most important addition to the Ole Miss Rebels since the end of last season was not a player, but the hiring of Houston Nutt as head coach. Of course, Nutt was the successful coach of Arkansas who left the Razorbacks at the end of last year. It remains a mystery to me why Nutt fell out of favor at Arkansas, but their loss turns into a big gain for Ole Miss.

Though former coach Ed Orgeron did not earn enough wins to save his job, the general consensus among SEC watchers is that he did a good job recruiting talent to Ole Miss. Nutt has a reputation as a master motivator who is an excellent game day coach (ask LSU). He could be the missing ingredient when it comes to making Ole Miss football relevant again.

Ole Miss won't challenge for the SEC Western Division title. LSU and Auburn are both too powerful for that. However, the Rebels should have a bounce back season.

Their first two games may set the tone for the entire season. The Rebs host Memphis then take a trip to Wake Forrest. Even if they only go 1-1 in those games, this could create significant momentum after last season's 3-9 disaster.

Ole Miss should be able to squeak out six wins and go to a lower-tier bowl.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gun freedom equals more suicides?

Though the media's coverage regarding what goes on in Washington primarily focuses on Congress and the White House, the Supreme Court is also a fascinating source of news.

Recently, the high court delivered a ruling on gun ownership that many are hailing as a major victory for those who believe people should have the right to defend themselves from home intruders.

In its 5-4 decision, the court struck down a District of Columbia ban on handguns, as well as requirements that firearms must be kept disassembled and have trigger locks.

Since I was a boy, gun control has been a volatile issue, and the court's decision should at least bring partial closure to this debate. However, the debate will not entirely disappear.

After the decision, most major newspapers and cable news programs had predictable debates about the ramifications of this ruling.

However, there was one little nugget of information in all this debate that I found fascinating, but there was little discussion about it. When studying complex issues, the truly important tidbits are usually off to the side, and this is the case with this debate.

According to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides accounted for more than half of firearm deaths in 2005.

In that year, 55 percent of the nearly 31,000 firearm deaths were by suicide, according to figures reported by the Associated Press.

Am I the only one surprised by that? Frankly, this is one aspect of the gun control debate that I have rarely considered.

Most of the rhetoric in this debate is usually focused on how unsafe it can be to have a gun in the house, but suicide is rarely brought up.

When discussing safety, most of the discussion has focused on the gun being used against a homeowner by a criminal who wrestles it away from him. The focus is either on that or the potential for an accidental shooting (such as if a child were to find and play with the firearm).

An even more surprising fact is that the numbers in 2005 are not that unusual. In 20 of the last 25 years for which there are records, gun-related suicides outnumbered both firearm homicides and accidents, according to the AP.

Apparently, easy access to firearms when depressed is too much of a temptation for many. And that is truly tragic.

Personally, I agree with the Supreme Court's decision. I believe the Second Amendment does guarantee certain rights when it comes to firearms.

Like many people, I fear there are a lot of folks out there who are dangerously unqualified when it comes to owning firearms. However, laws like the handgun ban in the District of Columbia took things too far, and fortunately, the court recognized that.

I know it is a cliché, but most gun laws only succeed in keeping firearms out of the hands of people who follow the law. Criminals are still going to get their weapons, and all the laws in the world will not prevent that.

Still, the statistics presented at the beginning of this column are troubling. Let's face it; attempting suicide with a gun is a much more successful method than jumping off a cliff.

Though the numbers vary slightly, people who attempt suicide with a gun are successful between 80 and 90 percent of the time.

Therefore, having a gun easily available during a period of despair can be dangerous.

Because of this, gun ownership must then be taken very seriously. Make sure you buy one for all the right reasons.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Unfortunately, Vanderbilt will post another losing football season

As a graduate of the University of Tennessee, I know I shouldn't admit this, but I quietly cheer for Vanderbilt's football team. Obviously, I've never cheered for them against Tennessee, but I do have a soft spot for the team. I've lived about one hour from the school for most of my life, and the first college football games I attended as a youth were Vanderbilt games.

Last year, everything seemed aligned for Vanderbilt to earn its first winning season and bowl berth since 1982. They had a lot of experience (especially on the offensive line) and talent. Here on my blog, I was among those who picked Vandy to finally get the monkey off its back, but the Commodores faded down the stretch and finished 5-7.

This year, I am not optimistic. The entire offensive line must be re-worked, and there is a lot of inexperience. Coach Bobby Johnson has been excellent since taking the job there. Even though this year looks like the proverbial rebuilding season, the program is still much better than when he took it over.

Looking at Vandy's schedule, I have a big beef with the school administration. The Commodores play their first game on the road at Miami (Ohio). I don't have a problem with them playing Miami, but I do have a problem in that it is a road game.

A SEC team should never play a Mid-American Conference (MAC) team on the road. Unfortunately for Vandy, the Redhawks are the favorites by many to win the MAC. They would love nothing more than to knock off a SEC team to start their season. So, thanks a lot to the schedule maker for coming up with this stroke of genius.

As for the rest of the schedule, I see Vandy beating Duke and Rice (both games are at home). Other than that, the pickings are pretty slim.

Unfortunately, I'm gonna have to listen to my head instead of my heart. Vandy will go 3-9 at best this season.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Is Steve Spurrier's window of opportunity closing at South Carolina?

When Steve Spurrier took over as head coach at South Carolina, it looked like the program was ready to go to the next level. Lou Holtz had rebuilt the program, and as he stepped down, most thought Spurrier was the right choice to turn the Gamecocks into a national power. However, that hasn't happened.

Until the mid-point of last season, it looked like Spurrier had the team on the brink of something special. In his second season in 2006, the team won eight games, and last year, the team started 6-1 and was ranked in the top 10. At that point everything fell apart. The Gamecocks finished with a 6-6 record and didn't even go to a bowl game.

Spurrier's trademark when he coached Florida was his ability to develop quarterbacks within his offensive system. As he enters his fourth season at Carolina, that position remains in a state of flux. Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley both struggled during spring practice.

Carolina's early schedule this year is interesting. Most will point to the September 13 match up against Georgia as their first big test, but the opening game against North Carolina State is just as important. While N.C. State is only a middle-tier ACC team, it is critical for the Gamecocks to win that game. Last year left a bad taste in everybody's mouth, and Carolina needs to win early and win big.

Looking at Carolina's schedule in its entirety, this is a team that has 7-5 written all over it. Of course, that would be a slight step forward compared to last year, but with Spurrier as coach, the fans of the program have really high expectations. A 7-5 record would be considered a disappointment to many of them.

Because of this, it will be interesting to see how they treat Spurrier. Will he start feeling heat?

Considering the resources of the school, South Carolina has been the most underachieving program in the SEC since joining the conference in 1992. The team really hasn't made a serious run at the SEC Eastern Division title during this time.

They remain the mystery program of the SEC.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Please make the most of the holiday weekend

We have reached the July 4th holiday weekend, and perhaps the most amazing aspect of it is that we are already half way through the year.

The last six months and a few days have zoomed by. When I was a boy, it felt like time crawled. I was warned back then that it would not always seem that way, and now that I am older I can see they were right.

Time is a precious resource, and we better make the most of it because we never know when we will be out of it.

As for July 4th, I hope we all took time to reflect on the significance of this holiday. Birthdays are important days for us all, and the same goes for our nation.

Our nation is now 232 years old and continues to be a shining example of democracy and freedom.

Of course, our country does have its problems. In addition to social problems that are too numerous to cover here, we are now struggling with a slowing economy, rising unemployment, high gas prices, and an unpopular war.

However, if nothing else, this holiday should make us feel grateful for the many freedoms we have.

For example, consider freedom of the press. When we open our favorite newspaper, I doubt many of us take the time to consider just how unique a document it is.

In many countries that are not democracies, the government's first priority is to strangle all efforts to have a free press. After all, if they want to control their citizens, the last thing they want is for them to read about what is really going on with their government.

Though our media is sometimes bashed, we should never lose sight of the need for a free and independent press. Also, the media should never forget that it has been blessed with a sacred responsibility to serve the public.

More and more media outlets are taking on the characteristics of large corporations. As anybody who has worked for a large corporation can attest, the adjectives "free" and "independent" are often the last words used to describe the culture in those organizations.

Because of this, the media must never forget that they are there to represent the public and ask the questions that we want asked and not worry about who it offends.

In the upcoming Summer Olympics that will be held in Beijing, China, it will be fascinating to see how the government there will attempt to control the media.

When the Olympics are held, it is a time when the host nation can spotlight itself to the world.

In most cases, that is not a big deal, but China is different. For all the talk about how the country is becoming more open, the government still tramples its citizens' rights.

Recently, the government evicted people living in low-income apartments and tore their homes down as part of attempts to beautify their country for the coming games.

This was reported by multiple news organizations here in the United States, including CNN. However, the big question should be whether it was reported in China. Though I don't know for sure, my guess is 'no.'

The bottom line is we have a lot to be grateful for in America. Though we all take our freedom for granted at times, we should at least stop and ponder this fact sometime this weekend.

We better be careful not to take it too much for granted. Because if we do, we might wake up one day and find that it is gone.