Thursday, August 28, 2008

Look for Tennessee to beat UCLA to start '08 season

Last year, the Tennessee Volunteers opened the season at California with high hopes but got thumped by two touchdowns. The Vols return to the state to play UCLA in the season opener this year, and I expect the outcome to be different.

As I've written in other postings, I have a good feeling about the Vols this year. Most of the starters on last year's offense return, and new quarterback Jonathan Crompton has looked pretty good growing into his role. The defense appears much more settled compared to the start of last year.

UCLA's injuries at quarterback have been well documented, and the Vols are definitely catching a break in having to face the Bruins third-string quarterback. UCLA has a good defense that should keep them in the game, but the Vols will pull away in the second half.

Quite simply, the Vols are the better team. And it will show on Monday night.

The pick: Tennessee 28 UCLA 20

Other SEC picks: Clemson over Alabama, Louisville over Kentucky, Vanderbilt over Miami (Ohio), South Carolina over North Carolina State, Georgia over Georgia Southern, Florida over Hawaii, LSU over Appalachian State, Auburn over Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State over Louisiana Tech, Arkansas over Western Illinois, Ole Miss over Memphis

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

There should be no pre-season college football polls

Georgia is ranked number one in both the Associated Press and USA Today college football polls to start the season. In fact, the Bulldogs are the pick of most experts to win the national championship. They have a lot of experience returning this year especially on defense.

However, I have never understood the need for polls before the start of the season. The polls are supposed to rank the top 25 teams in the country, but how is that possible if no games have been played? True, the pre-season polls are largely ceremonial and play an important roll in adding to all the pre-season chatter related to the sport. But don't these polls give an unnecessary advantage to teams that have not earned anything yet?

Every year, it seems like there is at least one team that is ranked low in the polls or not at all, but they emerge as one of the top teams. However, because they began so low, it was more difficult for them to reach the top than it was for teams that were bestowed high rankings without playing a game.

When Tennessee won the national championship in 1998, we began the year ranked tenth and had to slowly but surely jump teams on the way to the top. Conversely, the Volunteers started the 2005 season ranked third, but stank it out and finished with only a 5-6 record. Clearly, the Vols were vastly overrated that year.

Polls should not be issued until the first week of October. By then, all the teams have been playing for a month, and we should have a pretty good idea of who the better teams are. It will not guarantee that teams won't get overlooked, but it will greatly reduce the possibility. If we aren't going to have a playoff system, then we must look at ways to refine the current system. And this is one way.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Say goodbye to civility

In one form or another, most of us were taught when we were young that we should treat people the way we would want to be treated by them.

Most belief systems use this as a fundamental teaching. For example, Christianity refers to this as the Golden Rule, and it is a teaching that acts as a vessel through which believers can express love for God and their fellow man.

Many non-spiritual belief systems also agree that this is a good approach to life.

However, when looking at the world, I wonder if this teaching is having the impact on our society that it once did.

For example, I was recently talking with a friend who works in the customer service industry. He remarked that his profession is becoming more of a grind because of the attitudes he encounters from customers on a daily basis. He said that people appear to have shorter fuses than in the past, and it was a deep source of frustration for him.

This was especially interesting to me because my friend is no rookie just out of college. He has worked in the profession for many years, and he has seen this change slowly develop through the years.

When I asked him why he thought this was happening, he felt it might be because people are feeling financially squeezed. After all, unemployment and inflation rates are rising. Since many people have already over-extended themselves when it comes to debt in the last few years, this hostility may be an extension of that.

He makes a good point. Whether it is in the household or the government, overwhelming debt has become a daily part of many people's lives. Nothing creates stress quite like financial stress.

However, I wonder if this problem runs a little deeper. Not long ago, I was shopping in Murfreesboro and stopped at a fast food restaurant for lunch.

It was a Saturday, and the place was overflowing with customers. The lines were long and so was the wait.

While waiting, I saw customers verbally slap the employees taking their order several times. The employees were young and likely not making much more than minimum wage, but the customers really let them have it.

I guess having to wait five minutes for a hamburger was too much of a burden to handle so they took it out on them.

Now, I understand that customers have a right to expect professional service for what they are purchasing. We should all expect first-rate service, but there is a fine line between presenting a complaint and going off the deep end.

And more and more people seem to be going off the deep end.

I also have experience working in the customer service industry and have been surprised regarding what will cause a person to explode. This is especially true when dealing with somebody on the phone.

Maybe the anonymity of talking on the phone causes people to drop their inhibitions, but many people will start using profanities over just a few dollars.

People like to say that all things run in cycles, so hopefully there will be a turn toward gentleness and kindness sometime soon.

However, I am not encouraged. Our society's heart has become coarse, and it appears to be getting harder and thicker each day.

I hate to sound so pessimistic, but there is too much evidence piling up that supports my point of view.

My challenge to everybody reading this (including me) is to resist the negativity and keep fighting the good fight.

It's the right thing to do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Top of SEC's Eastern Division will be a jumble this year

Too many, Georgia is the clear-cut team to beat in the SEC East this year, but I don't think so. I think the Bulldogs have the potential to win it, but we all know the SEC is a conference of parity.

I don't see any team winning the SEC East outright this year. The divisional winner will have at least two conference losses, which means all of us will have to brush up on the conference's tiebreaker rules when it comes to determining which team will play in the SEC title game.

Frankly, I think this will be a season of surprises. Here is how I think it will shake out.

1. Florida Gators – While most of the talk surrounds quarterback Tim Tebow, the Gators will take a step forward this year because of its improved defense. The defense was inexperienced last year and was flat-out awful at times. It won't be great this year, but it will be good enough because the Gators should score a ton of points. Expecting Tebow to match his output of last year would be unfair, but he is the main reason the Gators will continue to score a lot of points.

2. Tennessee Volunteers – Even though the Volunteers return 16 starters from last year's divisional winning team, there isn't much talk about them repeating as champion. If the Vols develop depth on their defensive line and new quarterback Jonathan Crompton continues to progress, Tennessee will be right in the mix. A lot of people appear to be down on Coach Phillip Fulmer these days, but his career record is 147-45 (that's 102 games above .500 folks). I think some in the Vol Nation need to appreciate what they have.

3. Georgia Bulldogs – I know, I know. All the hype this year says Georgia should be a national championship contender, so how can I have them picked third in their own division? Just look at the schedule. The Bulldogs play six teams that have head coaches who have won national championships. The Bulldogs have the talent, but sometimes the schedule is just too tough. Prove me wrong, Georgia.

4. South Carolina Gamecocks – What is the state of the South Carolina program? Are they as good as they were when they started last season 6-1? Or, are they as bad as they were when they lost their last five games? Actually, they are somewhere in between. This year's team will be like many Carolina teams over the last five years. The Gamecocks will win seven games and go to a minor bowl. There is something bland about South Carolina football. I never thought I would say that about a Steve Spurrier coached team.

5. Kentucky Wildcats – Quarterback Andre Woodson carried Kentucky to eight wins last year, but he is gone, leaving a huge void on the team. Until a playmaker of his caliber steps forward, Kentucky will struggle. The Wildcats have a solid defense and a weak non-conference schedule, which means they will go bowling. However, 7-5 may be the best they can hope for.

6. Vanderbilt Commodores – Vandy lost a ton of talent from last year. Coach Bobby Johnson has done an excellent job improving the Commodores overall talent level, but this is clearly a transition year. Johnson is a good coach. Let’s hope Vanderbilt's administration continues to show patience with him.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Look for Auburn to win the SEC West this year

The Southeastern Conference's Western Division will be a division of plateaus this year.

The top two teams are clearly defending national champion LSU and Auburn. Alabama and Mississippi State should slug it out for third place, while Ole Miss and Arkansas will bring up the rear.

How will it all shake out? Let's take a look.

1. Auburn Tigers – After much consideration, I'm giving Auburn the nod to win the division. While mystery still remains around its spread offense, the defense should remain formidable enough to win games early in the season while the offense works out the kinks. The Tigers toughest conference games are at home (LSU and Tennessee), and their toughest conference road contest will be at Alabama. However, the Tigers are definitely in Bama's head and should continue their recent mastery of them. Also, kudos to Auburn for scheduling one of the most interesting non-conference games of the year. They will visit West Virginia on October 23.

2. LSU Tigers – It's true that LSU has tons of talent, but the Tigers have a gaping hole at quarterback. Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed from the team leaving them with little experience at the position. Also, while the Tigers had a great season last year, they also caught a lot of breaks (the most notable being when they threw a touchdown pass on the last play of the Auburn game when a short field goal was all that was needed). The breaks have a way of evening out, and I believe that will happen some this year.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide – Alabama has a lot of question marks. They staggered down the stretch last year, but according to the "experts" they recruited a great freshman class. If this young talent blossoms this year, Bama could win eight or nine games. If not, they could wind up in the Independence Bowl for the second straight year. Alabama is a program on the move, but they are at least one year away from challenging for the divisional title.

4. Mississippi State Bulldogs – The Bulldogs were the feel good story of last year. After a lot of hard work and patience, Coach Sylvester Croom squeezed eight wins out of his team after struggling to rebuild the program. A lot of experienced players return, but the Bulldogs must improve their passing offense, which ranked 113th in the nation last year. State will not sneak up on anyone this year.

5. Mississippi Rebels – Perhaps the most important change in the conference since last season was the hiring of Houston Nutt as new head coach at Ole Miss. Most believe the Rebels have good young talent. Nutt has a strong reputation as a motivator and developer of talent. If he can apply those skills successfully at Ole Miss, the Rebels may be entering an era of success

6. Arkansas Razorbacks – Truthfully, I don't know what to make of Arkansas. New coach Bobby Petrino showed when he coached Louisville that he can develop a powerhouse. However, he isn't coaching in the Big East anymore, and the cupboard may be a little bare when it comes to talent at Arkansas. However, give them credit for playing on the road at Texas in September.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bush made right decision to go to Olympics

The debate about whether the Summer Olympics should have been held in Beijing remains a passionate one.

Despite being watered down in recent years, the Olympics remain one of the premier stages for athletes. The performances of the athletes not only say a lot about themselves, but also about the countries they represent.

As I've written before, the selection of China as the host nation was a dubious one at best. Its track record involving human rights' abuses and religious intolerance have been well documented. It remains a mystery why the International Olympic Committee would want the country to be spotlighted in such a manner.

If the Olympics are supposed to showcase the best athletics have to offer, it is reasonable to expect that the IOC would pick a government that at least tries to nurture its citizens.

China doesn't come close to doing that, but there is nothing that can be done about that now.

A recent political controversy was whether or not President George W. Bush should have attended the Games' opening ceremonies.

After all, there were plenty of reasons why he should not have gone. Personally, I went back and forth regarding this matter.

On one hand, it seemed wrong for him to go to a country where the government emphatically opposes much of the ideals for which the United States stands.

By boycotting the Games, Bush could have made a powerful statement that would have tweaked the nose of the Chinese leadership.

On the other hand, by going, Bush had the opportunity to be an ambassador of freedom and could highlight the stark differences between the United States and China.

Despite America's problems, our country remains an inspiration to many and the office of president is a symbol of that.

Because of this opportunity, I believe his decision to attend was correct.

With the world's media pointed at Beijing, everything Bush said was reported on an international stage. Prior to the Games, he made a speech critical of China's human rights' record.

Additionally, he attended a worship service. Religious intolerance is a major issue there, but Bush knew he could make a powerfully symbolic statement by publicly worshipping.

Though many of us take the right to worship for granted, Bush understood that he could make a major statement without uttering a word. His single act showcased the wide gap between America and China when it comes to worshipping God.

The Chinese may rule with an iron hand, but there was nothing they could do to interfere with Bush doing that.

Additionally, Bush's presence reminded the world that the United States has a government elected by the people. Obviously, this is an election year, and though many of us grow weary during the campaign process, our country is quite unique in how we elect officials.

Communist officials appoint Chinese leaders. Since they have little impact on how the government is operated, the Chinese people have to sit and take it.

Though the government there is trying to censor information during the Games, Bush's presence allowed a sliver of democracy to be seen in that land.

Though the sliver was small, we shouldn't underestimate the impact it could have on the country. Revolutions often take place when oppressed people get a brief glimpse at what life could be like.

Much like the Soviet Union before it, China does its best to oppress its people. The Soviet Union once appeared invincible, but its government eventually crumbled from within.

I believe that will happen someday in China.

And that will be a happy day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I never thought I would be happy to see...

Currently, gas can be purchased here in Manchester for $3.42 per gallon. If I had been told a couple of years ago that I would some day be happy to pay that for gas, I would have thought you were bananas. However, that is the current state of the gasoline marketplace.

I wish I could be optimistic and believe that prices will continue to fall. However, I don't think that will happen. We'll be fortunate if gas prices ever fall below $3 a gallon again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I hate cancer

I am getting really fed up with cancer.

That doesn't mean that I once tolerated it, but I'm getting fed up with it more than usual.

I guess, the bottom line is I hate cancer. Before we go any further, I feel the need to emphasize what I mean by the word "hate."

Two of the most misused words in the English language are hate and love. For example, when describing a bad meal, somebody may say that they "really hated that spaghetti."

I remember saying that a lot as a boy. My mom cooked it a lot, and everybody in my family enjoyed it but me. So, to persuade her not to make it, I would often emphasize how much I hated spaghetti.

Obviously, I didn't have a good understanding of what hate really means. My trusty dictionary defines hate as regarding something "with extreme aversion: an extreme feeling of dislike or animosity."

The key word in that definition is "extreme." When our emotions are pushed to the extreme, we experience feelings from the depths of our heart. Just when we think our emotions can't run any deeper, we will experience a situation that touches us in places we didn't know existed.

I think this applies to my feelings toward cancer.

With that in mind, when I say I hate cancer, I mean that I HATE cancer.

I hate watching the work of this disease and the damage it has done. This disease is so firmly entrenched in our society that there isn't one person reading this who hasn't been impacted by it.

Dear reader, if you haven't suffered personally from this illness, then I'm sure you've had a family member or a friend or a co-worker or somebody else who has suffered from it.

Whether directly or indirectly, cancer's wrath has touched us all.

Despite its impact on our culture, I sometimes feel the disease doesn't get enough attention. Yes, I understand that tens of millions of dollars each year are spent on research, but it seems like other diseases get more publicity.

An example of this is AIDS. I know this is going to be politically incorrect, but it often appears that this disease gets spotlighted a lot more than cancer even though it impacts fewer people here in the United States.

Obviously, I am not trying to minimize that illness. AIDS is a devastating illness, and its victims should be treated with the same love and care as cancer sufferers. Funding for aggressive research to find a cure for it is important.

However, the disease is a lot less mysterious than cancer. I won't go into graphic detail, but AIDS is preventable if people use good judgment and take certain precautions. The bottom line is AIDS is a lot more controllable than cancer.

True, some forms of cancer can also be prevented through good judgment and taking precautions, but there are other forms of cancer that appear to materialize out of nowhere.

In my life, I have known people who have lived robust and healthy lives only to be stricken. They exercised regularly, ate the right foods, and did not smoke, but could not escape cancer's wrath.

So, what do we make out of all this?

I really don't know. All we can do is live each day to its fullest. When presented with the opportunity to help somebody with the disease, take advantage of that opportunity.

We all should help our neighbors carry their load. Sometimes just telling a cancer sufferer that you love them helps them in numerous ways.

So, why not do it?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Remember to pray for our presidential candidates

Our presidential election is three months away, and for some, it can't come soon enough. Many folks are burned out on politics and want the campaign to end so they won't have to sit through any more speeches or commercials about why they should vote for a certain candidate.

I don't feel that way. I enjoy the give and take of our political scene, and presidential election years are especially interesting. Even though I won't publicly endorse a candidate, I do encourage all of you to study the issues and vote in November.

For reasons I can't explain, I believe the coming election is the most important one of my lifetime (I'm 43). As we move forward, we must remember to pray for all our elected officials, but especially those seeking the presidency.

Those of you reading this can follow your own heart regarding what you should specifically pray about, but make sure to include these people during your daily prayer time. If you don't have a daily prayer time, this would be a good time to start one.

Take this seriously.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Atlanta Braves going gently into that good night and goodbye Skip

As we steamroll through the dog days of summer, it looks like the Atlanta Braves season is going to end with a whimper. At the season's start, it looked like the Braves might be a contender, but it hasn't worked out.

The team's older players can't stay healthy, and the younger players are too inexperienced. The final blows came when pitcher Tim Hudson shredded his elbow and first baseman Mark Teixeira got traded to the Los Angeles Angels. Couple that with catcher Brian McCann's recent concussion and outfielder Jeff Francoeur's inability to take a pitch, and it has become apparent that the Braves will finish fourth in the National League Eastern Division. I hope I'm wrong, but it is looking that way.

Of course, a bigger loss was yesterday's death of Braves' broadcaster Skip Caray. I have been a Braves' fan since I was a boy, which was roughly about the same time Skip started broadcasting Braves' games. He had his own unique style and called it like he saw it. You can't ask for more from a broadcaster.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

IOC dropped ball on Iraq but picked it back up

We are only days away from the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, and controversy continues to be a huge part of the build up for the Games.

From the moment the International Olympic Committee chose China to host the event, it seems like conflict began. Obviously, many were upset with the choice because of the country's lousy human rights' record.

There are hundreds of ways to illustrate China's abuses, but the IOC felt the time was right to give the country a world stage to present what it is all about.

I know the cornerstone of the Olympic movement is that the Games are supposed to transcend political ideology, but the choice of China is a dubious one at best.

The IOC recently made another shaky decision when it upheld a ban on the Iraqi Olympic team. Earlier this year, the Iraqi government disbanded the country's National Olympic Committee for a variety of reasons, including a power struggle between Shiites and officials from the Saddam Hussein-era Olympic Committee.

The IOC upheld the ban and criticized the Iraqi government for what it called "serious interference" with a committee that is supposed to be autonomous.

Fortunately, officials resolved the crisis so Iraq will be sending at least some of its team to Beijing.

If this resolution hadn't happened, then it would have been another black eye for the IOC.

The IOC's position that national Olympic committees should be free of governmental interference is commendable, but their punishment of the Iraqi athletes was misguided.

If ever there was a country that needed something to rally around, it is Iraq.

The power of the Olympic Games has been diminished somewhat in recent years because of the end of the Cold War.

However, for small, struggling countries like Iraq, the Olympics remain a powerful force that can unite a country.

An excellent example of this happened during the 2004 Summer Olympics when the Iraqi team received a rousing ovation from an international audience during the opening ceremony.

This was the team's first event after the fall of Hussein, and it was a glorious moment for those athletes and the nation. Remember, Iraqi Olympic athletes were tortured during Hussein's years when they did not perform well at the event.

For that one moment, all Iraqis could savor a brief moment of brotherhood that they likely had not felt in a long time.

Of course, since then, the fighting in Iraq has continued, and there have been few opportunities for citizens there to experience what they felt back in 2004.

It was not that long ago when it was America that needed to be unified and an event in the 1980 Winter Games provided just that opportunity.

At that moment, America wasn't feeling that good about itself. Our country was coming out of a decade that saw the public get splintered by events such as the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the disastrous Jimmy Carter administration.

America needed a pick me up and got it from a scrappy group of amateur hockey players. Going into those Olympics, nobody thought the American team had a chance to earn a medal much less win the gold.

However, that is exactly what happened. The "Miracle on Ice" unified Americans from all economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Iraq needs a moment like this now. Fortunately, the IOC changed its mind.