Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How much are we like Jonah?

The brief Book of Jonah, tucked away toward the end of the Old Testament, is an interesting study of God's patience when the person He chooses for a job does not want to do it. This situation applies to all of us to a certain degree. At one time or another, we have all resisted doing a job God has wanted us to perform.

However, as this book shows, God does not give up easily as we come up with reasons not to serve Him. In Jonah's situation, God used some unusual tactics to get his attention. While we may never spend time inside a fish, the spiritual conviction we feel as we wrestle with God about a matter is often no less dramatic.

The part of this book that most people know is the three days Jonah spent inside a fish. But there is a lot more here than that. Though only four chapters long, the book teaches that bitterness can take root in all our hearts if we lose our focus.

The book began with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness was great. In one of the few examples in the Bible of a prophet refusing a direct commission to prophesy, Jonah refused. Not only did he say 'no,' but he also left in an attempt to avoid God's wishes.

Why would he refuse to serve? Though it is not entirely clear why, a likely reason was because Nineveh was an Assyrian city. The Assyrians had oppressed Israel, so the idea of going to an enemy city to warn them of God's impending judgment likely was very upsetting.

Jonah wanted God to punish the city for what it had done to his people, but because of God's love and mercy, he was afraid God would spare them (see Jonah 4:1-2). It is human nature to avoid doing something good for our worst enemy. However, God sees everybody as sinners who need Him.

Imagine if God wanted you to go to Iran or another enemy of America and minister to them. It would be easy for us to resist just as it was for Jonah. However, Jesus told us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies.

Jonah attempted to flee on a boat, but God caused a great storm. In an attempt to appease God, the ship's passengers threw Jonah overboard, but God provided a fish to protect him from drowning. While in the fish, we see a different side of Jonah. In chapter one, he had been hard-hearted, rebellious, and upset at God. In chapter two, we see a more softhearted, teachable, and thankful person.

God's use of the storm should not be interpreted as an attempt by Him to harm Jonah. He wanted to teach Jonah obedience, and His use of the storm and fish helped achieve that. The peril Jonah faced was because of his sin.

If he had been obedient, he would not have been in this situation. Jonah recognized his mistakes, and his prayer in chapter two drips with contrition. In the same way when we sin, we must face the results they produce, but God wants to work with us so we can learn.

In chapter three, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached. His preaching produced results because the people repented, and God spared the city. On the surface, this conclusion seemed like the ultimate happy ending with the people turning toward God.

However, Jonah's reaction to this is a study in bitterness. Instead of being happy that the people repented, he was very unhappy. He could not get passed his own anger and pain. Jonah reminded God that his original reason for resisting was because He is merciful and would forgive them. Now God had done the very thing he feared, and it made him angry.

While Jonah's point of view may seem ridiculous, we need to be very careful before we sling arrows in his direction. How easy is it for us to harbor resentment, anger, and bitterness in our hearts when we have been wronged? It is extremely difficult to let go of the hurts we have.

We have to be very careful not to allow the pain and anger in our hearts to consume us when it comes to Godly matters. While we should have a righteous anger against sin, the Gospel needs revealing to everybody including people who may be our enemies. We can not let personal dislikes get in the way.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter four about the need to rid ourselves of anger. He wrote in verse 26: "In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." In verse 31 he wrote: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every other form of malice."

Many times life can be frustrating. Many times life unfolds in ways we do not like. Many times life can break our hearts. However, the guidance God provides in those verses in Ephesians show how important it is to let go of anger and bitterness.

There comes a time when it is necessary to let go of the pain and hurt in our hearts.

Make this the time.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quote of the day

"The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry." – spoken by the character 'Brooks Hatlen' as portrayed by James Whitmore in the film The Shawshank Redemption.

As I steamroll into middle age, I find myself identifying more and more with that statement. I look at the pace of my life and others around me, and we seem way too busy. We're living our lives, but we aren't taking the time to slow down and enjoy it. It's all just zooming by.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gas lines are back

As part of my job, I drive to Nashville several days a week. Because of the amount of miles I drive, I have been impacted by high gas prices as much as anyone.

Up until recently, the biggest nuisance of this situation had only been the cost of gas. However, everything got taken up a notch when large sections of Nashville ran out of gas over the last week or so.

For those of us old enough to remember, the last time this happened was during the energy crisis of the 1970s. As a nation, we went through a lot of inconvenience, and there were pledges back then that we would take steps to avoid a repeat of this.

Flash forward 30 years and here we are dealing with it again.

When it comes to issues like this, most of us first learn of them through the media. However, when Nashville first started having its problem, I got to see it first hand.

As I drove up there, I got off at my normal exit at Haywood Lane, and as I approached Antioch Pike, I saw a gas station that had lines of cars extended into the street.

I got a small chuckle out of that, but the extent of the problem did not hit me until I arrived at my destination. Person after person I encountered told me of long lines throughout the city.

As I left to come home that afternoon, I found that most of the gas stations in Antioch had completely run out of gas. Even the higher grades that people rarely buy had all been bought out.

Since then, there has been lots of complaining about who was to blame for this problem. Hurricane Ike and its impact on the Texas coast obviously was a major culprit, but others blamed the government and the media for not informing the public that shortages like this were a possibility.

Those criticisms are hogwash. Much of the inconvenience people encountered were caused by an overreaction to the problem. People thought that all access to gas was going to dry up so they reacted like they do when snow is in the weather forecast.

When the slightest possibility of snow is forecasted, people flock to their nearest grocery store and clean out whatever they need. It doesn't matter that we rarely receive substantial snowfall here. People go out and buy food as if they are going to be snowed in for several days.

The same type of pack mentality was on display with this gas shortage. Instead of maintaining their normal buying patterns, people felt they had to go buy as much gasoline as possible.

This resulted in gas stations running out of their product, and it also helped keep prices up because of the high demand.

I personally saw situations where lines stretched several blocks. According to most media reports, people remained calm during all this. However, there were some cases where people tried to cut line and the profanities started to fly.

Even though this shortage is starting to subside, I don't believe it will be the last time we see this. All we are is one natural disaster or international incident away from seeing prices shoot up again.

And if the last couple of weeks are any indication, there will be more runs on gas stations.

This is just another indication that we need to lessen our dependency on oil and gasoline.

Are we learning? At this point, I'd have to say 'no.'

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can the Tennessee Titans make it four in a row this Sunday?

Did anybody see this coming? Coming out of the preseason, the Tennessee Titans had a ton of question marks on offense. Based on last year's performance, we knew the Titans had a playoff caliber team, but the offense's shortcomings kept expectations quite conservative.

However, the Titans appear to be blossoming. Quarterback Kerry Collins has stepped in and done a good job replacing Vince Young. The one-two punch of Chris Johnson and LenDale White anchors a formidable running game. Plus, the defense continues to be first rate. The Minnesota Vikings come to Nashville this week, and the Titans have a legitimate shot of ending the first quarter of the season with a 4-0 record.

The Vikings begin and end with running back Adrian Peterson. He can dominate a game, and expecting the Titans to completely shut him down is unrealistic. It's okay if he runs for 100 yards, but he can't be allowed to break long runs. The Vikings passing game is shaky at best. Journeyman Gus Frerotte took over as quarterback last week and led them to a win over Carolina.

The Titans have to make the Vikings one dimensional. Put pressure on Gus and good things will happen.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Minnesota 20

Other picks: Jacksonville over Houston, Denver over Kansas City, Dallas over Washington, New Orleans over San Francisco, San Diego over Oakland

Last week: 4-2 (.667), Overall: 10-7 (.588)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tennessee's season hinges on the Auburn game

With the stench of the Florida loss still lingering in Neyland Stadium, the Tennessee Volunteers have to pull themselves together for a tough test at Auburn on Saturday. I won't re-hash the Florida loss. It speaks for itself. It was a debacle that embarrassed the program nationally.

Simply put, Tennessee has to beat Auburn. With a loss, the program could be looking at a repeat of the 2005 season when the Vols finished 5-6 and didn't go to a bowl for the first time since 1988. It's that urgent. A loss Saturday will likely cause a complete lack of motivation for the rest of the season.

A win, however, will keep UT in the hunt for the SEC Eastern Division title. Based on what we've seen so far, that seems like the mother of all long shots already, but hope is a good thing.

Auburn is one of the toughest places to play in the league. However, the Vols have a few things going for them. Auburn is coming off a tough, emotional loss to LSU. As we all know, LSU usually beats up its opponents so badly that is often takes them weeks to recover (ask Alabama from last year). Plus, Auburn's offense is as inconsistent as Tennessee's. In a low scoring game, the Vols have a chance.

Still, based on what we've seen so far, can we expect Tennessee to rise to the occasion in such a hostile environment? My heart says one thing, but I better go with my brain.

The pick: Auburn 16 Tennessee 7

Other SEC picks: Georgia over Alabama, Florida over Ole Miss, South Carolina over UAB, Kentucky over Western Kentucky, LSU over Mississippi State, Texas over Arkansas

Last week: 5-2 (.714), Overall: 29-7 (.806)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Food for thought

Psalm 23

A psalm of David

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Underrated movie: John Wayne's 'The Shootist'

I know some may brand me as un-American for writing this, but I have never been much of a John Wayne fan. I really don't know why. We can't all have the same tastes, so maybe this is one of those things where I am in the minority.

However, there is one film of his that I think is excellent, and I don't often hear it talked about when discussions of his body of work take place.

The Shootist was made in 1976 and is a character study of a dying gunfighter. Wayne's character had killed a lot of people in his life and now he was having to deal with his own mortality. In a way, the film mirrored what Wayne was going through in his own life. His character, John Bernard Books, was dying of cancer just as Wayne would die from it not long after this film.

Perhaps that is why this film stands out to me. The most gripping types of art are when art imitates life and vice versa. Obviously, Wayne didn't murder a lot of people, but he was definitely facing the issues of a life that was winding down.

The film has an excellent cast. Jimmy Stewart has a small but memorable supporting role. Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard are also outstanding.

For those interested, read here for more.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Civil war at MSNBC

The media is one of the most important elements of any election season, especially when we are electing a president.

Its primary role is to act as an advocate for the people. After all, none of us will likely have access to any of the major players as we approach the election.

Some forums do provide citizens the chance to ask questions to candidates, but those events are usually tightly controlled and don't allow any significant give and take.

Therefore, the media's responsibility should be to ask the questions we would ask if we had the opportunity.

While that seems pretty clear cut, it is not always that easy because many voters believe certain media outlets have a bias against certain candidates.

For example, conservatives often complain about newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post as examples in the media that present news with a liberal slant.

Conversely, most liberals will express similar frustrations against a news outlet like Fox News. Such criticisms from both sides are pretty common during elections.

However, voters very rarely get a glimpse inside a news organization as it develops its strategy to cover a campaign. We got that glimpse recently when MSNBC demoted Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as co-anchors of political night coverage.

Both will remain as commentators, but their roles have been diminished.

Most who follow politics know Olbermann and Matthews from the shows they host each weeknight on MSNBC. Both shows are commentary shows meaning that very little actual news reporting is done. Basically, both men provide their points of view on the issues of the day.

Both (but especially Olbermann) have recently enjoyed a surge in popularity from liberals because of their criticism of the Bush administration. In watching both men perform, it is pretty clear that their political ideology leans to the left.

Within the context of their shows, there is nothing wrong with that. They are paid to present opinions, and they both do so with passion and flair.

However, things went wrong when both were awarded anchoring duties during the recent national political conventions. Basically, MSNBC put commentators into a situation best handled by a news reporter, and as most understand, there is a big difference between being a reporter and a commentator.

The situation reached a low point when Olbermann made several sarcastic comments at the Republican convention. For example, after vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin made her acceptance speech, Olbermann compared her to Reese Witherspoon's character 'Tracy Flick' in the film Election.

If you didn't see that film, trust me, the comment was not intended as a compliment.

MSNBC made a big mistake by putting these men into these roles. However, what is perhaps even more puzzling is that there wasn't much of an outcry when they were first chosen.

If ABC had assigned a conservative pundit like Rush Limbaugh to anchor its coverage at the conventions, criticism would have been loud and long. However, the selection of Olbermann and Matthews caused little criticism.

Based on published reports, it took an internal rebellion from within NBC's news division to get Olbermann and Matthews demoted.

Now, newsman David Gregory will handle anchoring duties for upcoming events.

One has to wonder whether this problem would have occurred if Tim Russert were still alive. Russert was known for his ability to remain impartial and had the most clout within both the NBC and MSNBC news divisions.

My guess is this never would have happened.

Chalk this up to growing pains caused by Russert's loss. However, it couldn't have occurred at a worse time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Titans will run record to 3-0 with win against Houston this weekend

The Tennessee Titans were impressive in beating Cincinnati 24-7 last week. Considering all the off-field distractions involving the media and Vince Young, the team could have been excused if they had played sloppily against the Bengals. However, that did not happen, and the Titans remain the only undefeated team in the AFC South.

The Houston Texans come to Nashville after experiencing a wild couple of weeks. In their opener, they got waxed by Pittsburgh 38-17 in a game that was never really close. They then returned home and were greeted by Hurricane Ike, which forced the postponement of their game against Baltimore. So, not only have they had to experience the emotional strain of dealing with a hurricane, but they haven't played in two weeks. The obvious question is: Will they be focused or rusty this Sunday?

The Titans are rolling primarily because of their defense. Through two games, the defense has only given up 17 points. Plus, quarterback Kerry Collins was a steadying influence in the Cincinnati game. He wasn't flashy, but he was efficient. At this point, all the Titans need from their quarterback is consistency. They got that last week, and I believe they will get it this week.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Houston 16

Other NFL picks: Indianapolis over Jacksonville, San Diego over New York Jets, Philadelphia over Pittsburgh, Green Bay over Dallas, Seattle over St. Louis

Last week: 2-3 (.400), Overall: 6-5 (.545)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Look for Florida to beat Tennessee on Saturday

Tennessee plays its first Southeastern Conference game this Saturday when Florida comes to Knoxville. What a way to start conference play. The Gators are tough, and Tennessee will have to find another gear if it hopes to win.

We all know about Florida. Quarterback Tim Tebow is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and he has a lot of weapons on offense to use. Questions still surround the Gators' defense, but the unit looked strong in holding Miami, FL, to only three points in their last game.

Tennessee showed a lot of improvement against Alabama-Birmingham last week. I know fans like to see the Vols air it out, but quarterback Jonathan Crompton's 31 passes against the Blazers seemed way too much. We have an experienced offensive line and several first-rate running backs. The bottom line is the Vols will have to throw the ball less and run the ball more to beat Florida.

Given Tennessee's inconsistency in its first two games, I just can't pick them. The UCLA loss still stings, and the wound got deeper last Saturday when the Bruins played Brigham Young and got flattened 59-0. Just thinking about that makes me choke on the bile in my throat.

Florida will find ways to make more big plays than Tennessee and that will propel them to victory.

The pick: Florida 34 Tennessee 20

Other SEC picks: Arizona State over Georgia, LSU over Auburn, Ole Miss over Vanderbilt, South Carolina over Wofford, Alabama over Arkansas, Georgia Tech over Mississippi State

Last week: 7-0 (1.000), Overall: 24-5 (.828)

Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm stealing Mr. Jimmy's idea...or am I?

Frequent visitors to Mr. Jimmy's BLAHBLAH know that he sometimes posts a list of songs that he is currently listening to. I always like those postings because I believe they shed some insight into the person. Plus, I like music, and I'm always interested in finding something new.

In that spirit, I thought I would post some songs I'm currently listening to. Then, I got to thinking that some of you might think that I was stealing his idea. What am I to do? Hmmmmm. I've got it. Look at it like this: This posting is paying homage to Mr. Jimmy because I am admitting that his work is influencing me.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Anyway, here are the songs:

'Tomorrow Never Knows' by The Beatles
'Daddy Sang Bass' by Johnny Cash with June Carter Cash and The Statler Brothers
'Workin' at the Car Wash Blues' by Jim Croce
'Roll Me Away' by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
'Keep the Customer Satisfied' by Simon and Garfunkel
'Amos Moses' by Jerry Reed (RIP)
'Apeman' by The Kinks
'Spontaneous' by Neil Innes
'Pop Life' by Prince and the Revolution
'Badge' by Cream
'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' by Nirvana
'It Doesn’t Matter Anymore' by Buddy Holly
'Southern Accents' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
'Sundown' by Gordon Lightfoot
'Think' by Aretha Franklin

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Timeless is timeless: Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On'

Perhaps the best type of thrill we can experience is when we stumble across something fantastic that we had forgotten and get to experience that thrill of discovery again.

Recently, I was going through some old boxes when I came across Marvin Gaye's wonderful CD What's Going On. If I were ever stranded on a deserted island and could have only 10 albums, this would be one of them.

To understand how big a departure What's Going On was for Marvin Gaye, a person only has to listen to the songs he had recorded up to that point in his career. Gaye was perhaps the most successful male singer at Motown Records prior to this album, but most of his songs were lightweight.

If Motown had an assembly line approach to making records, Gaye was the voice of the assembly line. Motown staff members wrote and produced his songs, and Gaye used his soulful vocal ability to entertain the masses.

However, by the early 1970s, Gaye was ready to use his clout to get more artistic freedom. The result of this power struggle was this album. On What's Going On, gone was the lightweight two or three minute singles mostly associated with Gaye. When listening to these songs, a person can literally hear this man's heart bleeding.

What's Going On is a deceptive record on first listening. The songs have a seductive groove enhanced by full orchestration and hints of jazz and gospel music that seem more soothing than anything else.

However, even a casual listen to each song's words show an artist in conflict with the world around him. The world's problems overtake everybody at some point, and this was one of those times for Gaye. He surveyed his world on this album, and he hated what he saw.

War, poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, failed relationships, tax problems and more swirled around him. But the album's tone is not accusatory like somebody waving a finger in a person's face. Sorrow and heartbreak for a world gone wrong is the heart of this album.

The title track set the tone for what followed. The song's melancholy words are swept along by a fluid groove. As the old Disney song said "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." The likeable musical arrangement allowed Gaye to reflect on society's problems without alienating the listener, and the album's title track became a major hit.

'What's Happening Brother' was a reflection of his brother Frankie's experiences in Vietnam. 'Inner City Blues (Make Me Want to Holler)' communicated the despair of ghetto life. 'Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)' detailed environmental abuse, while 'Save the Children' wondered about the neglect of young people.

However, Gaye found comfort and refuge in his faith on songs like 'Wholly Holy' and 'God Is Love.' An undeniable spiritual element enveloped this album, even on the songs that dealt with bleak subjects. Compassion is a central ingredient that runs throughout all these songs, which is at the heart of Christianity. Gaye revealed himself to be a very tenderhearted person on this album.

Some artists embrace causes only to appear relevant, but genuineness graces each song here. Taking a risk is a very difficult thing to do for all people. It requires making yourself vulnerable, and since it is human nature to want to be in control, people often shy away from doing it.

However, Gaye rose above those concerns on this album. Part of being a visionary is being willing to pursue truth regardless of the consequences.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Expect Cincinnati to deliver first loss to Titans

For Tennessee Titans' fans, their worst performance of 2007 is easy to pick out. In late November, the Titans traveled to Cincinnati and got routed 35-6. The game was a disaster on all levels as the Bengals dominated the game.

On Sunday, Tennessee returns for what should be one of the more fascinating games of the week. The Titans played well (especially on defense) in beating Jacksonville 17-10. However, Cincinnati's offense was miserable in losing at Baltimore 17-10.

Against the Ravens, Bengals' quarterback Carson Palmer passed for only 99 yards and no touchdowns. Wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco (yes, that is his official name now) combined for only four catches. I can't see that happening two games in a row.

As for the Titans, running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White ran the ball effectively against Jacksonville. The offensive line is clearly the strength of the offense right now, and Johnson has brought some much needed big-play potential. Still, regardless of whether Vince Young or Kerry Collins is quarterbacking, the Titans are still incapable of delivering big plays in the passing game.

It looks like another close game for the Titans.

The pick: Cincinnati 20 Tennessee 17

Other games: Indianapolis over Minnesota, Jacksonville over Buffalo, Houston over Baltimore, Seattle over San Francisco, Arizona over Miami

Last week: 4-2 (.667)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tennessee will get back on track against UAB this week...right?

Well, it's been almost two weeks since Tennessee's disastrous opening game loss to UCLA, and it has given us all some time to consider what we have learned from that game.

We learned that Jonathan Crompton is only good enough to be the fourth-string quarterback at UCLA (at least at this point anyway). I'm sure we all expected inconsistency from Crompton, but he went long stretches where he appeared incapable of completing a pass. Of course, that wasn't his entire fault. For unknown reasons, Tennessee completely abandoned the run for most of the second half. Let's hope offensive coordinator Dave Clawson has a little better game calling plays against Alabama-Birmingham this week.

We learned that our tradition of starting the season with shaky special teams will be extended at least one more year. One blocked punt and three missed field goals are one of the primary reasons the Volunteers lost. True, a couple of the field goals were more than 50 yards, but we never got our mojo going on special teams all night.

This Saturday, Alabama-Birmingham visits Knoxville for the home opener. The Blazers are 0-2 with losses to Tulsa and Florida-Atlantic.

There is no question Tennessee will win this game, but the key is to see how they react to the UCLA loss. Will they come out and simply go through the motions or will they be motivated and take out their frustrations on the Blazers?

Given the Vols inconsistent nature in recent years, I think it will be a little of both.

The pick: Tennessee 34 Alabama-Birmingham 24

Other SEC picks: Georgia over South Carolina, Kentucky over Middle Tennessee State, Vanderbilt over Rice, LSU over North Texas, Auburn over Mississippi State, Alabama over Western Kentucky, Texas over Arkansas, Ole Miss over Samford

Last week: 9-1 (.900), Overall: 17-5 (.773)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Good movie: 'A River Runs Through It'

I know A River Runs Through It was made back in the early 90s, but I only got around to seeing it recently. I thought it was top notch. As is my policy, I don't review films (click here if you want to read one), but I thought it was a good character study of two brothers (played by Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt) coming of age and going down different paths. Director Robert Redford did an excellent job of weaving the beautiful natural scenery into the presentation of the story line.

Take time to see it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Maury Povich has no talent

I spent a couple of days at home last week and spent some time exploring afternoon television. Of all the shows I saw, I thought Maury Povich's talk show took the prize for being the biggest piece of crap on TV. Absolute schlock.

The main point of the shows I saw involved women who recently had a baby, and Maury brought on the two or three guys she thought might be the father. Of course, Maury graciously provided the paternity tests and after the results were announced, pandemonium reigned. I guess he's taken up Jerry Springer's torch when it comes to exploiting people's personal lives. Don't waste one second of your life watching his show.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tennessee Titans facing must-win game in season opener against Jacksonville?

Well, the National Football League is finally kicking off the 2008 season this week after putting fans through another round of mind-numbing pre-season games in August. As much as I like football, I dislike the pre-season just as much. However, that is mercifully over, so let's look at the Tennessee Titans' first game.

The Titans begin the season with a bang, hosting divisional foe Jacksonville. I know it's just the first game, but if the Titans want to make the playoffs, they must beat divisional rivals at home. So, is this a must-win game even though it's the first game of the season? Yes.

The key to this game (and the season) is how many points the Titans can score. It's that simple. The defense looks stout, but the first team offense lumbered through the pre-season with little success. Plus, quarterback Vince Young injured his hand in the final pre-season game against Green Bay.

Until further notice, I don't believe we can count on the offense to deliver more than 20 points in a game. Therefore, the defense must carry the load.

Jacksonville is a strong team. They have a formidable one-two punch with Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, plus David Garrard is developing into a solid quarterback.

The Jaguars have the edge in talent, but the home field advantage will allow the Titans to elevate their game just enough to win.

The pick: Tennessee 17 Jacksonville 16

Other NFL picks: Indianapolis over Chicago, Pittsburgh over Houston, Dallas over Cleveland, New England over Kansas City, San Diego over Carolina

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

SEC already showing why it is the nation's best football conference

If week one of the college football season revealed anything, it is that the SEC remains the best conference in the country.

While teams like Florida, Georgia, and Auburn abused creampuffs, other teams made impressive statements. Alabama buried Clemson, Kentucky embarrassed Louisville, and South Carolina shut out North Carolina State. Of course, Tennessee put a blotch on the conference's resume by losing to UCLA, but even the best conferences don't beat every non-conference opponent.

I know the rest of the country gets tired of hearing it, but the SEC rules. Until a conference comes along that can wrestle the crown away from it, the rest of the country should treat the conference with awed silence.

However, I believe a special nod should go to the Big 12. I like some of what I'm seeing from that conference. In addition to Oklahoma, I believe Missouri can be a special team if they can play some defense.

Week Two SEC picks: Florida over Miami (FL), Wake Forest over Ole Miss, South Carolina over Vanderbilt, Kentucky over Norfolk State, LSU over Troy, Auburn over Southern Mississippi, Alabama over Tulane, Mississippi State over Southeastern Louisiana, Arkansas over Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia over Central Michigan

Last week: 8-4 (.667)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Notre Dame facing intense pressure in season opener against San Diego State

Of all college football teams, Notre Dame might be the happiest to see the start of the 2008 season finally arrive. I won't re-hash last season's nightmare, but it was one for the record books for all the wrong reasons. There is no way to sugarcoat it: the Irish stank.

On Saturday, Notre Dame hosts San Diego State and will begin to answer questions left after last year's debacle. Is Jimmy Clausen really a top notch quarterback that can lead a big-time program? Can the offensive line block anybody? Can Charlie Weis really develop collegiate talent?

While San Diego State appears to be the right type of opponent Notre Dame needs to begin a comeback season, I'm not so sure. The Aztecs only won four games last year in a weak conference and return 12 starters. However, intangibles may play a big part in this game.

I believe the Irish will win, but don't underestimate the pressure this team is under. Fans and media are looking for evidence that last season was only a blip on the radar. San Diego State is a team Notre Dame should destroy, but the team's fragile ego may crack if it gets off to a slow start.

Notre Dame fans must remain realistic. This is a team that will have to take baby steps before getting up to speed. There will be no quick cure after last season and anybody expecting that is not being realistic.

This team needs time to grow. If that doesn't happen, they may crumble.

Be patient.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Driving habits changing?

There isn't one person reading this who hasn't been negatively impacted by the sharp rise of gasoline prices in the last year.

For people who rely on their cars and trucks to make a living, this crisis has been especially tough. Truckers have probably been hit the hardest because it is taking thousands of extra dollars a month just to keep each of those big rigs running.

Additionally, in an effort to avoid life in the big city, lots of people commute from rural areas to their jobs. It makes sense to do this for many reasons.

The primary reason is that living in big cities costs substantially more, but when gas prices shot up, a lot of people re-thought this approach and began moving closer to their jobs.

People who don't drive much have been hurt in indirect ways. Because it costs more to ship food around the country, grocery prices have also spiked upward.

So, in one way or another, we have all paid more because of the gas crisis.

Because of this, an obvious question should be whether or not this problem is forcing us to change our driving habits. After all, if this really is painful, shouldn't we all be changing how we are driving in the hope that supplies will rise and prices will come down? Is this happening?

Based on some recently released statistics, the answer is 'yes.' According to federal government numbers recently reported by USA Today, people in June reduced driving by 12 billion miles compared to the same period in June 2007. This was a reduction of 4.7 percent.

Additionally, oil consumption dropped by 800,000 barrels per day in the first half of 2008 compared to the first half of 2007.

This had to have played a partial role in the recent drop of gasoline prices. After straddling the $4 per gallon level, prices dropped to as low as $3.35 per gallon here locally.

For people living on the financial edge, this drop brought deeps sighs of relief. However, consider the absurdity of it all. Did we ever think that we would get to the point where we would be happy to see gas prices of $3.35 per gallon?

It shows just how irresponsible we have all been when it comes to our dependency on oil. When we allow ourselves to become dependent on one resource, it makes us that much more vulnerable when that resource becomes scarce.

Our irresponsibility was compounded because we rely so much on other countries to supply us oil. America's soft underbelly has been exposed, and it is our dependence on oil.

Of course, the next question should be: Where do we go from here?

It's nice that we have reduced our driving some, but high gas prices are here to stay. I don't see gas prices dropping below $3 per gallon in the foreseeable future. We have shown the marketplace that we will pay that much.

The bottom line is we need to remain committed to conservation and developing other sources of energy.

As the presidential race heats up, voters must press the candidates on what they will do to lessen our dependency on foreign oil.

Just because there has been temporary relief at the gas pump, it doesn't mean this issue is going away. Prices will shoot upward again. It is only a matter of time.

As consumers, we must become more disciplined when it comes to these resources.

It may require sacrifice, but it will be worth it in the long run.