Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tennessee Titans better be on letdown alert against Green Bay

Monday night's win by the Tennessee Titans over divisional rival Indianapolis lived up to the hype. The crowd was rowdy, and the Titans dominated the second half. Life is good when having a four-game divisional lead before reaching the mid-season point.

However, the Titans better be on alert for a possible letdown against Green Bay on Sunday. Though it was great to see the Titans on Monday Night Football, the downside is they will have a short work week to get ready for the Packers. Green Bay, on the other hand, had last week off and that has given them two weeks to prepare for this game. Coincidentally, Green Bay's last game was a throttling of Indianapolis.

Though the Titans are playing brilliantly, emotion is a funny thing. They used a lot of it on Monday. Will they have any left on Sunday? Or will they come out flat and lose?

These are reasonable concerns. If the Titans still have some emotion in the tank, then expect another win. If not, the situation becomes dicey.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Green Bay 23

Other picks: Indianapolis over New England, New York Giants over Dallas, Minnesota over Houston, Cleveland over Baltimore, Chicago over Detroit, St. Louis over Arizona

Last week: 4-2 (.667), Overall: 28-18 (.609)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Staggering Vols visit South Carolina still in search of itself

Last Saturday was the first Tennessee game I attended in person this year, and the trip confirmed two things: the Vols offense is as bad as advertised and Alabama is really good.

Heading into the season's ninth game, Tennessee's offense simply stinks. No improvement is being shown against elite teams. No running game, costly penalties at the worst time and general inefficiency rule the day.

This week, the Volunteers visit South Carolina, and the Gamecocks have one of the best defenses in the Southeastern Conference. Plus, Carolina has Steve Spurrier who has been Phillip Fulmer's personal tormentor for years (though Fulmer has done better against Spurrier since he went to Carolina.)

Week after week, I have been waiting for improvement from Tennessee's offense. However, at this point, I've decided to stop holding my breath. To use a popular cliché: they are what they are.

Tennessee is no longer an elite team, and teams are licking their chops at being able to even the score against them. Last week, it was Alabama. This week, it will be South Carolina.

A whole new era of Tennessee football has begun.

The pick: South Carolina 21 Tennessee 13

Other picks: Florida over Georgia, Mississippi State over Kentucky, LSU over Tulane, Ole Miss over Auburn, Alabama over Arkansas State, Tulsa over Arkansas

Last week: 5-2 (.714), Overall: 50-15 (.769)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Five CDs you should own (if you don't already)

  1. Sweetheart of the Rodeo by the Byrds – If you're into Gram Parsons, you probably already have this one. If you're looking for a Parsons' sampler, start here.
  2. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector – Before becoming a dangerous eccentric, Spector was a great producer. Christmas songs by Darlene Love, the Ronettes, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and the Crystals are all here.
  3. Photographs and Memories: The Best of Jim Croce – Some dismiss Croce as lightweight, but he was a good storyteller. This selection contains all his best ('Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,' 'You Don't Mess Around with Jim,' and the excellent 'Workin' at the Car Wash Blues').
  4. Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys – Unbelievably, I didn't like it the first time I listened to it, but it has really soaked in over the years. I understand where Brian Wilson is coming from.
  5. Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones LTD. by the Monkees – I know I'll take a credibility hit here, but it is a first-rate pop record. Bubble gum is tasty, too, you know.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Future bleak for Christians in Iraq

Despite all the differences and controversies that engulf our nation on a daily basis, all of us would have to agree that the United States is a special place.

After all, in a little over a week, we once again will demonstrate to the world how an orderly transfer of power takes place when we elect a new president.

Some of these transfers have been bumpy in the past (like the 2000 election), but our ability to do this makes us unique in the world. There may be some more bumpiness in the coming days as allegations of voter fraud have surfaced, but our country will work through it.

Additionally, many of the fundamental liberties we enjoy are only a dream to many people outside our country.

Countries like Venezuela have clamped down on the media in recent months, and though we all grumble about the U.S. media, most of us would agree that a free press is one of our most important building blocks.

If we only got our news from outlets run by the government, many politicians would run amuck without any accountability. Many already do, but the numbers would certainly rise without watchdogs.

Additionally, religious and spiritual freedom is one of our nation's greatest traits.

While there seems to be a growing intolerance in our nation toward Christianity, most Christians can worship freely as can people of other faiths. The only opponent most spiritual people have to conquer is their own apathy about attending a worship service.

However, many people around the world are not so lucky. Recently, there were reports of widespread attacks against Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Until recently, Mosul was one of the few semi-safe havens for Christians there, but that has all changed. Provincial election laws were recently changed after community protests that resulted in the removal of an article that would have provided representation to Christians and other minorities, according to a McClatchy Newspapers report.

This means what little protection that existed for Christians is gone, and it is pretty much open season on them. Dozens of murders have happened there since.

The Iraq War has been a controversial issue for quite some time, but it continues to amaze me how little attention is devoted to the plight of Christians there. After all, if we feel religious freedom is such an important right, shouldn't we be putting more pressure on the government there to improve this?

After the billions of dollars that we have spent and the thousands of American lives lost, I don't think it is asking too much that people be allowed the courtesy of going to church without the fear of being murdered in the street.

Of course, the obvious response to this is that we can't force our culture down the throat of another country. Just because something may be important to Americans, it doesn't mean it will be important to Iraqi citizens.

Still, these types of situations are frustrating because Iraq isn't the only place where crimes like this are taking place.

This type of persecution is taking place all over the globe from the Middle East to Asia to Africa.

The real answer is that Christians shouldn't rely on the government to pressure other countries to ease religious restrictions. Christians should be proactive and become involved in the process.

Prayer and financial support of organizations that help fight this problem are all steps people can take to help ease this situation.

A person never knows how much he can help until he takes that first step.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Titans looking to tighten grip on AFC South against Colts

It's late October, and things are looking pretty good for the Tennessee Titans. At 6-0, they are the National Football League's only undefeated team and lead the AFC South by three games.

The Titans face Indianapolis on Monday night in a game that could knock the Colts out of serious contention for the divisional title. I know the season hasn't even reached the midway point yet, but a Titans win would put the Colts four games back. If that happens, the Colts best bet for the playoffs will be as a wild card team.

Though they are 3-3, the Colts could easily be 1-5 if not for miracle rallies against the Vikings and Texans. The passing game simply hasn't gotten in rhythm. Quarterback Peyton Manning had two knee operations in the off-season and hasn't hit his stride, while wide receiver Marvin Harrison is starting to look old.

The Titans, on the other hand, rolled against the hapless Chiefs last week. Chris Johnson and LenDale White are developing into one of the top running back tandems in the league. Quarterback Kerry Collins has been efficient, and the defense keeps pounding opposing offenses.

At some point, the Titans are going to play a bad game, but not this week.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Indianapolis 20

Other picks: Jacksonville over Cleveland, Buffalo over Miami, New Orleans over San Diego, Philadelphia over Atlanta, Baltimore over Oakland

Last week: 4-2 (.667), Overall: 24-16 (.600)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Odds stacked against Tennessee as Alabama comes to Knoxville

Tennessee's 34-3 drubbing of Mississippi State last week couldn't have come at a better time for the Volunteers.

For the first time all year, both the offense and defense played well in the same game. The offense got off to its customary slow start, but settled down and produced four drives that had 10 plays or more. The defense registered five sacks and had three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

However, despite its win against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State is an average team at best. This week, Tennessee plays perhaps the best team in the Southeastern Conference when Alabama visits Knoxville.

In zooming to a 7-0 record, Alabama has jumped on opponents early. The best example was their racing to a 31-0 halftime lead against Georgia as they thoroughly outplayed the Bulldogs. They did the same against Clemson and Ole Miss.

Tennessee, on the other hand, has been plagued by slow starts. This is primarily because the offense has scored a total of 14 points in the first quarter all season. In last week's win, the Vols led only 6-3 at the half, but slow starts killed them against Florida and Georgia.

The Vols simply can't allow Alabama to jump on them early. The offense doesn't have the firepower to overcome a large deficit.

To win, Tennessee must control the game's tempo, which means the game must be an old-fashioned slugfest where the defense and special teams determine the flow of the game. If it becomes a shoot-out, Tennessee doesn't stand a chance.

The pick: Alabama 23 Tennessee 13

Other SEC picks: LSU over Georgia, Florida over Kentucky, Vanderbilt over Duke, West Virginia over Auburn, Mississippi State over Middle Tennessee, Mississippi over Arkansas.

Last week: 5-0 (1.000), Overall: 45-13 (.775)

Monday, October 20, 2008

(Dumb) Quote of the Day

"Ya know, Hitler was a great leader, too." -- spoken by Lou Holtz, ESPN college football analyst.

Apparently, Coach Holtz was trying to make a point last Friday about leadership not being enough as it relates to the current state of the Michigan football program. Holtz has since apologized, but for future reference, Hitler isn't a good example to use when making a point unless it is about evil, the Holocaust, or genocide.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Goodbye, O.J. (finally)

Though it received far less attention than his spectacular acquittal of murder charges in the mid 1990s, football legend O.J. Simpson was convicted earlier this month of crimes associated with an armed robbery.

Sentencing won't happen until early December, but if Simpson gets the maximum sentence, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Given the power of celebrity in our country, I don't expect that to happen, but it is a possibility.

There was lots of irony associated with Simpson's conviction. He was convicted on the 13th anniversary of his Los Angeles murder acquittal. The robbery he was convicted of occurred on September 13. The jury that convicted him deliberated for 13 hours, and the trial itself lasted 13 days, according to the Associated Press.

Based on that, superstitious people could use this information as evidence that the number 13 really is bad luck. However, critics of Simpson might say that it proves just the opposite.

Even after all these years, Simpson still manages to provoke powerful emotions. For those who believe he was guilty of those murders, the robbery conviction brought satisfaction because he will be put away.

However, supporters of Simpson (and, yes, there are a few) believe the jury didn't allow him to get a fair trail because they were out to even the score for what happened last decade.

Those people have a point. I agree that if I had been considered for that jury that I would have had a hard time remaining impartial.

I believe Simpson killed his ex-wife and her friend, but that is just an opinion. He was acquitted by a jury of his peers, and I concede there were parts of the trial that could have caused the jurists to have a reasonable doubt about Simpson killing them.

There really isn't much more that can be said about Simpson that already hasn't been said. His fall has been about as far as one man can fall in a lifetime. He went from beloved athlete to social pariah in the blink of an eye.

Still, I can't help but remember the Simpson I thought I knew in my childhood. When I was growing up in the 1970s, Simpson was the athlete most kids wanted to be.

When playing football in the backyard, I'm sure I wasn’t the only boy who daydreamed that he was Simpson running for a touchdown in the snow of Buffalo.

He was a sports god. For better or worse, athletes are important role models for young people. Some athletes may protest that they are not, but there isn't anything they can do about it. It comes with the territory.

And Simpson was one of the biggest. When he wasn't running on the football field, he was appearing in movies and in commercials. He was a true American success story.

Of course, the fairy tale didn't come true. He proved that he is like the rest of us. We are all capable of doing really awful things, but most of us don't take the final step like Simpson did.

If nothing else, he is a cautionary tale. He made the fatal mistake of thinking he was smarter than everybody else and could charm his way out of any situation.

However, none of us are as smart as we think we are when it comes to these matters.

Pride always proceeds the fall whether somebody is famous or not.

It has happened for centuries and will continue.

If that doesn't make you humble, I don't know what will.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Titans should extend win streak this week, but why am I so nervous?

The Tennessee Titans travel to Kansas City to play the Chiefs in a game that appears to be a mismatch. The Titans are rolling at 5-0 while the Chiefs have been one of the worst teams in the NFL while struggling to a 1-4 record.

The Titans main strength is their running game while the Chiefs rank near the bottom of the league in defending the run. Advantage: Titans. Additionally, Chiefs' running back Larry Johnson has been suspended for the game. This would seem to favor the Titans as well, but Johnson rushed for only two yards in the Chiefs last game.

Both teams are coming off a bye week which is a little unusual. The bye came at a bad time for the Titans because they had been rolling. The bye probably came at a good time for the Chiefs because the weary often need rest.

Everything points to a Titans' win, but I've felt uneasy about this game all week. I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it is because the Chiefs have one of the best home field advantages in the league.

Nevertheless, I'm going with the Titans.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Kansas City 13

Other picks: Chicago over Minnesota, New York Giants over San Francisco, Dallas over St. Louis, Tampa Bay over Seattle, San Diego over Buffalo

Last week: 2-3 (.400), Overall 20-14 (.588)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tennessee, Mississippi State mirror each other in important ways

A casual glance around the Southeastern Conference reveals there are several teams with a lot in common. More and more teams have developed good defenses but been saddled with bad offenses.

Of course, Tennessee leads the way in this department. After the Vols' one rushing yard effort against Georgia, they are really struggling and putting more and more pressure on the defense. This week's opponent Mississippi State has also had trouble scoring consistently though running back Anthony Dixon has helped the Bulldogs develop a fairly dependable running game.

Kentucky and Auburn have also floundered consistently on offense. Even after Tommy Tuberville fired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, the Tigers lost to Arkansas at home, which has to be the biggest upset of the conference season so far. Also, Vanderbilt is in danger of falling into this category as quarterbacks Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson both struggle.

As for this week's Tennessee/Mississippi State match up, if either team can score 20 points, I believe they will win. The Vols have only scored 45 points in their last four games, while the Bulldogs' offense showed signs of life against Vanderbilt and LSU in their last two games.

However, the Vols are playing at home. Expect this to be a physical game much like last year's game in Starkville. Tennessee won down there last year, and I believe they will get it done Saturday.

The pick: Tennessee 20 Mississippi State 17

Other SEC picks: Georgia over Vanderbilt, LSU over South Carolina, Kentucky over Arkansas, Alabama over Ole Miss

Last week: 2-3 (.400), Overall: 40-13 (.757)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Psalm 51: A model for forgiveness and gratitude

Written by King David, many people consider Psalm 51 to be the most anguished confession of sin in the Bible. It is that, but it is also much more. The psalm provides us a blueprint to follow if we ever find ourselves dealing with the wreckage of wandering from God.

'Blueprint' may not be the best word to use when describing this psalm. Many times, a blueprint is a simple process to follow in order to achieve a goal. Blueprints tend to be more intellectually driven and do not usually include the contents of our heart.

While this psalmist's goal is repentance and restoration of fellowship with God, we need to always remember that one of the most important parts of us that God wants is our heart. If there is one characteristic here that leaps out at us, it is how David poured his heart out to God. David was genuinely sorry for what he had done and was not going through a ritualistic exercise so he could feel better about himself.

David wrote this psalm after he began his relationship with Bathsheba. While Bathsheba's soldier husband was away, David began an affair with her. The Bible details their relationship in 2 Samuel 11, including David's efforts to kill her husband and its aftermath.

Keeping in mind that at different points in his life many described David as "a man after God's own heart," his list of sins in this situation is startling. The list includes his lusting after Bathsheba, committing adultery with her, conspiring to deceive her husband, making her husband drunk, conspiring to murder then actually murdering him, and then ignoring his sins until Nathan confronted him in 2 Samuel 12.

David wrote this psalm at some point after Nathan confronted him. It was at this point that the enormity of his sins against God and the pain he had inflicted on people began to hit him. His writing sheds light on his regret and his desire to recapture a close fellowship with God.

The first nine verses are an urgent plea. He confesses that he sinned against God and needed His forgiveness. In the first two verses, he admitted his "transgressions." In verse four, it is clear that David knew that a person can sin only against God. He may have hurt other people, but God is the only One we can sin against.

He then asked that God forgive and cleanse him. In verse seven, he asked: "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." Hyssop was a plant used in ritual cleansing at that time.

The final verses are a response of gratitude to God. He continued to petition God for forgiveness, but he knew that if he wanted to change, he would have to remain close to Him. In verses 11-12 he pleaded, "Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."

He then closed the psalm by saying he would teach others so that they would know all about God and know not to do what he did. In this case, David was willing to use his experiences as a teaching tool for others. Likewise, after we sin, good can come of it if we are humble enough to allow our experiences to help others when needed.

Sometimes, people think that things they have done may be too much for God to forgive. David's list of sins was severe and wide ranging, but God was there for him. When we do wrong to others, it is human to want to avoid those we have hurt. The same goes with our relationship with God. When we sin against God, we realize we have hurt Him so we are hesitant to turn to Him.

Do not let anything you may have done in your past be a stumbling block when it comes to God. He was there waiting for David when he was ready. He wants to do the same for you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Coffee County selected third best place to tailgate before high school football games

Each Friday during the high school football season, The Tennessean has been highlighting the best the sport has to offer in lots of categories.

Last Friday, the newspaper selected Coffee County High School (which is located in Manchester) as the third best place to tailgate before a game in the mid-state.

Ranked above us were David Lipscomb and Franklin High.

This came as a big surprise to me because I sometimes wonder whether the newspaper knows we have a team based on their coverage of the mid-state.

Still, it's nice to be recognized.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Vice presidential nominees' impact overrated

When it comes to presidential elections, one of the most interesting aspects of the race is the role the vice presidential nominees play.

After all, depending on who wins in November, Joe Biden or Sarah Palin will only be one heartbeat away from being president if something unfortunate should happen to the president.

However, the ironic aspect of this is that I believe very few of us take their qualifications into consideration when casting our votes.

Think about it: Will the choice of Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate make anybody more or less inclined to vote for Obama? Probably not.

I believe the same applies to John McCain. While Palin has brought some much needed sizzle to his campaign, I believe she will be a minor factor as voters consider voting for McCain.

While it's true Palin may help McCain attract some disenchanted voters who voted for Hillary Clinton during the primaries, this impact will likely be minimal.

However, Palin's emergence during the campaign has been fascinating. After an electrifying speech at the Republican convention, she regressed somewhat as was documented in her lackluster interview with CBS's Katie Couric.

Even some conservatives were debating whether she was the right choice and whether she was experienced enough for the big stage of a presidential election.

She put those fears to rest during her debate with Biden in which she clearly gained confidence as the event unfolded. The same snap, crackle, and pop she displayed at the convention were on display again.

Palin is a lot like Obama in that they both possess a tremendous amount of charisma that plays well on television. Both have been blessed with great communication skills that touch the hearts of people.

While the substance of what a candidate says should be most important, the style in which they present it is quite important.

During my lifetime, the two best communicators involved in politics on the national level have been Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Setting aside their political ideologies, their personal charisma was a big reason for their success. Both not only understood issues, but knew how to present them to citizens.

However, letting personal charisma impact how a person may vote for a president can be a tricky thing. Let's face it; it is easy to be mesmerized by the messenger while losing track of what he or she is actually saying.

As we enter the campaign's final weeks, it is important that voters demand specifics from the candidates regarding how they will tackle the important issues of the day.

When listening to Obama, McCain, Biden, and Palin, it often seems they are satisfied to say they will be an agent of change in Washington without elaborating on what that change will be.

The debates that have been held so far have allowed more specifics to be discussed, but the majority of voters don't tune in to these events. I fear most voters will take the easy way out and form their opinions through the tightly-controlled ways candidates prefer to present themselves.

From here to Election Day, carefully crafted commercials and personal appearances in front of friendly crowds will be how the candidates want to present themselves. Of course, this makes sense because both sides are deathly afraid of making any kind of mistake so close to the end of the campaign.

So, my challenge to you all is to not be satisfied with sound bites from the candidates that are designed to be the quote of the day.

Do your own work and study the issues.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Can the Tennessee Titans stand prosperity?

The Tennessee Titans have a bye week this week, and so far, the season couldn't have gone any better. They've posted a 5-0 record while the rest of the teams in the AFC South have struggled. The Indianapolis Colts are in second place, but they have two losses.

Next week, the Titans return to action with a game at Kansas City, which is only 1-4 and has a terrible offense. However, the following week, the Colts come to Nashville for the biggest game of the season so far.

The big question to be answered is: How will the quarterback situation unfold? Vince Young is getting healthier and will likely be ready for the Chiefs game. Coach Jeff Fisher has indicated that he will stick with Kerry Collins as long as he is winning. How will this go over with Young? Will it cause dissension on the team? Will the players take sides?

There are lots of questions to be answered, but I believe I will pause this week and enjoy the fact that the Titans are unbeaten. All those other questions will be answered soon enough.

This week's picks: New Orleans over Oakland, Philadelphia over San Francisco, Dallas over Arizona, New England over San Diego, Washington over St. Louis

Last week: 4-2 (.667), Overall: 18-11 (.621)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tennessee Volunteers must overcome offensive demons to have chance at Georgia

Most Tennessee Volunteer fans already know this, but the start to this season is much like the start of the 1994 season. Back in '94, we began with a narrow road loss at UCLA. We sputtered to a 1-3 start mostly because of uncertainty at quarterback, which has been the case this year. In '94, we narrowly defeated Washington State 10-9 in game number five to improve to 2-3. Of course, we edged Northern Illinois last week by the nearly identical score of 13-9 to improve to 2-3.

For the sake of Vols' fans, we better hope this year winds up like '94. After that slow start, Tennessee rallied to finish 8-4 and beat Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Of course, that team was led by a rapidly maturing freshman quarterback named Peyton Manning.

Unfortunately for this year's team, there isn't a quarterback of Manning's caliber. However, Nick Stephens did well in his first start last week. He appeared comfortable and more decisive in his decision making than Jonathan Crompton did in the first four games. Then again, that was against Northern Illinois. This week the Vols travel to Georgia.

Though most of the focus is on our quarterback play, our running attack must improve. Tennessee managed only 69 yards rushing last week, and Stephens must get more help than that. The defense has been fabulous, and must keep it up. Tennessee must force at least three turnovers to have a chance to win. And it would be nice if we could go one game without a blocked punt or a fumble inside our 10-yard line.

Tennessee is catching Georgia at a bad time. The Bulldogs got whipped two weeks ago by Alabama and have had all this time to think about it. Plus, the three-touchdown whipping Tennessee gave them last year is fresh in their minds.

Look for this game to be close for three quarters, but the Bulldogs will pull away in the fourth.

The pick: Georgia 27 Tennessee 13

Other picks: Florida over LSU, Kentucky over South Carolina, Vanderbilt over Mississippi State, Auburn over Arkansas

Last week: 4-1 (.800), Overall: 38-10 (.791)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Creedence Clearwater Revival's 40th anniversary celebrated with re-issues

A benefit of John Fogerty's re-signing with Fantasy Records is that he appears to be allowing alternate versions of recordings made by Creedence Clearwater Revival to be released. This is especially apparent in the re-issuing of CCR's first six albums to celebrate the group's 40th anniversary.

Today, I picked up Cosmo's Factory, and it includes three bonus tracks not included on the original album plus extensive liner notes by rock critic Robert Christgau.

The three recordings are:

  1. A studio version of 'Born on the Bayou' that Creedence recorded with Booker T. and the MGs in 1970.
  2. An alternate version of 'Travelin' Band' (most notable for the lack of horns).
  3. A live version of 'Up Around the Bend' recorded on the group's 1971 European tour.

I picked this up at Wal-Mart for only $7. If you dig Creedence, this is right up your alley.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Random thoughts from SEC action last weekend

Will the real Ole Miss please stand up? – Imagine what it must be like to be an Ole Miss fan this year. In the last three weeks, the Rebels have lost to Vanderbilt at home, beaten Florida at The Swamp, and lost to South Carolina at home. It is an obvious example of growing pains under first-year coach Houston Nutt, but it has to be maddening to the fans.

Twin sons of different mothers? – Is it just me or do Kentucky and Tennessee seem like mirror reflections of each other? Both have good defenses and bad offenses. If you are a Tennessee fan, this realization has to make you sad. Very sad.

Some teams thrive in the spotlight – Vanderbilt has had an amazing season so far, but things got taken up a notch last week. ESPN was on campus, and Auburn was clearly their toughest challenge so far. That said, their inexperience in big-time games really showed in the first quarter. They looked tentative and a step slow while falling behind 13-0. However, after that, they were clearly better than the Tigers in rallying to win 14-13. Auburn is starting to look more like Kentucky and Tennessee than LSU.

Up and then down, up and then down – I know Alabama is undefeated, but there can be no denying they have been erratic at times. After opening the season with a thrashing of Clemson, they struggled to beat Tulane the following week. Likewise, after embarrassing Georgia, they struggled at home against Kentucky. If this trend continues, it could cost them a championship.

It's no fun being young in the SEC – Arkansas is playing 16 freshmen on a regular basis, and they are getting pasted almost every Saturday. Last Saturday, they trailed Florida only 17-7 late in the third quarter, but collapsed late to lose 38-7.

One final note – Any Saturday is a good Saturday when Michigan loses.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How far is too far?

During any political campaign, advertising is a primary tool campaigns use to get a candidate's message across to voters.

I don't believe this is a good thing, but it would be naïve to believe that most voters take the time to thoughtfully consider a candidate's views on the issues. Maybe we are all too lazy, but there can be no denying the impact a well-crafted commercial can have on a voter.

When it comes to political advertising, negativity seems to rule the day. Attack ads often are the commercial of choice and many are as sharp as a surgeon's knife.

Recently, a commercial pushed the limits of what is acceptable in a political ad. A commercial financed by two liberal groups focused on John McCain's bouts with cancer.

The commercial claimed that McCain had not done enough to discuss the issue and called on him to release his medical records.

In classic attack ad style, the commercial showed black and white photo close-ups of McCain's face to emphasize the scars left by the removal of his melanomas.

When a group wants to go negative, they always employ black and white footage or photos to make the other candidate look bad. After that initial visual impression, they often conclude the commercial with a color photo of the candidate they are supporting to make him appear more appealing and attractive.

It isn't a sophisticated technique, but it is effective.

The commercial in question was turned down by several networks, but did air briefly on MSNBC. However, the ad was quickly pulled after an avalanche of criticism.

Even though I believe the commercial went too far, it did raise an interesting question. How far is too far when it comes to political advertising?

It's not an easy question to answer. Campaigns want to be on the cutting edge when it comes to getting out its message, but the margin for error is often quite small.

Obviously, the health of a candidate is an important issue, and McCain's bouts with cancer should be talked about. However, the makers of that commercial took an insensitive approach to a sensitive issue and got roasted because of it.

Of course, miscalculations like this are nothing new. In the television age, perhaps the most famous example of this was the 'Daisy Girl' commercial during the Lyndon Johnson/Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964.

The commercial was a pro-Johnson ad. In it, a little girl was shown in a field picking petals off a flower. Then the screen turned black and was followed by a blinding flash and a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion. A narrator then encouraged voters to vote for Johnson.

The commercial was yanked after one showing and generated a lot of controversy. However, it did nothing to stop Johnson's march to an overwhelming victory in the election.

As our current campaign trudges along, there will likely be more commercials that push the envelope. After all, the purpose of these ads is to generate publicity for a candidate, and these days, there appears to be no such thing as bad publicity.

Even if a special interest group takes a cheap shot at a candidate, the candidate that the commercial was supposed to help can often make himself appear more statesmanlike by denouncing the attack on his opponent.

As much as the public complains about negative campaigning, there is no denying that it works.

Negativity rules when it comes to political commercials. It says a lot about the candidates, but it also says a lot about all of us.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tennessee Titans look to go 5-0 at Baltimore

The National Football League is definitely a lot more interesting when your favorite team is winning. The Tennessee Titans are 4-0 and have several exciting months ahead of them. On the other hand, winless teams like the St. Louis Rams are already looking ahead to next season.

The Titans next challenge is on Sunday at Baltimore. On the surface, the Ravens have several weaknesses. Quarterback Joe Flacco is a rookie, and the Titans' defense knows it will have plenty of opportunities to attack him physically and mentally. Plus, the Ravens running attack has been lackluster. Running back Willis McGahee is struggling with a rib injury, and the entire offensive unit lacks a lot of punch.

However, the Ravens are 2-1, and that is primarily because of their defense. Yes, many of their players are old by NFL standards, but they are still getting the job done. Linebacker Ray Lewis may not have the skills he once had, but he does a masterful job of motivating his teammates.

As for the Titans, life is great, but playing on the road is tough. True, they did post an impressive road win at Cincinnati earlier this season, but that win has been tainted somewhat by how truly awful the Bengals are.

The Titans are the better team, and the Ravens are coming off an emotional loss last Monday, meaning they've had a shorter week to prepare for this game.

Are the Titans due for a let down? It will happen at some point...but not this week.

The pick: Tennessee 17 Baltimore 10

Other picks: Indianapolis over Houston, Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, New Orleans over Minnesota, Carolina over Kansas City, Denver over Tampa Bay

Last week: 4-2 (.667), Overall: 14-9 (.609)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tennessee in a must-win situation against Northern Illinois this Saturday

Back in the summer, I never dreamed this week's game against Northern Illinois would be a must-win game for the Tennessee Volunteers. However, that is what it has become after opening with three losses in four games. Tennessee has to win this game to keep its bowl hopes alive.

As we all know, the offense can't consistently move the ball, much less score. The loss to Auburn was one of the most frustrating ones in recent years because of all the opportunities we had to pull it out in the fourth quarter. Great field position was squandered time after time.

As of this writing, we don't know who will start at quarterback for the Vols. Phillip Fulmer said Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens will split snaps this week in practice. My guess is that we will see both of them a lot the rest of the season. But to paraphrase an old football cliché: "Any team that has to play two quarterbacks really doesn't have one at all."

The bottom line is all the Vols need from the quarterback position is consistent management of the game. This is because the defense has looked really good the last two games, and special teams improved significantly against Auburn.

We have to avoid the crippling mistakes that we've seen time after time this year.

As for this week, the Vols will win, but we are still feeling our way.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Northern Illinois 17

Other SEC picks: Vanderbilt over Auburn, Florida over Arkansas, Ole Miss over South Carolina, Alabama over Kentucky

Last week: 5-2 (.714), Overall: 34-9 (.791)