Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Auburn game may make or break Tennessee's season

Heading into the Auburn game, the Tennessee Volunteers are banged up and searching to find consistency. The conventional wisdom regarding last week's game against Ohio was that it would provide a tune up to prepare for the teeth of the conference schedule.

However, that did not happen. The Bobcats pushed the Vols deep into the fourth quarter before Tennessee pulled it out 34-23. Several key injuries occurred and the most important one was the knee injury suffered by middle linebacker Nick Reveiz. In the second half, the Vols were missing five starters from their defense.

Tennessee needs to get healthy in a hurry as unbeaten Auburn brings its powerful spread offense to Knoxville on Saturday. The Tigers are 4-0 and new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has revived their attack. Auburn was as bad as Tennessee on offense last year, but this year, they have already put 54, 49 and 41 points on opponents.

Quarterback Chris Todd looks born again as the starter. Last year, he appeared lost, but this year he has passed for 1012 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last week, he passed for a personal best 287 yards and five touchdowns against Ball State.

Tennessee, on the other hand, is still looking for offensive consistency. Running back Montario Hardesty has been the bright spot averaging more than 100 yards a game, including 140 last week. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton still remains a mystery, and the Vols need him to avoid making critical turnovers. This year, he has seven touchdown passes, but eight interceptions.

The Volunteers really need this game. With a loss, they will fall to 2-3 and with the next two games against Georgia and Alabama, they could be staring 2-5 in the face. A win over Auburn might generate enough momentum to beat the Bulldogs or Bama.

Though Auburn is 4-0, this is their first road game, which is a big challenge for any team. However, the Tigers should be able to put enough points on the board to win. As long as Tennessee's offense remains unreliable, it will be tough to pick them in big games. Shootouts are not the Vols specialty.

The pick: Auburn 27 Tennessee 17

Other SEC picks: Georgia over LSU, Alabama over Kentucky, Ole Miss over Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech over Mississippi State, South Carolina over South Carolina State, Arkansas over Texas A&M

Last week: 7-1 (.875), Overall: 30-3 (.909)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michael Jackson is not really dead, part two

Back in early July only a couple of weeks after Michael Jackson died, I wrote that he really would not be dead in most people's eyes because we would be flooded with posthumous product.

Well, it all begins next month with the release of the This Is It film that will deal with the concerts he would have performed if he had not died. There will also be an album and new single released next month as well.

It would be a great time to be a Jackson fan...if he wasn't dead.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Playing the race card

The debates regarding attempts to reform our healthcare system have been lively to say the least. People on both sides of the issue feel passionately about what they have to say on the matter.

We have seen this passion manifest itself in both good and bad ways. Recently, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson infamously responded 'You lie' to President Barack Obama as he was addressing Congress on the matter.

Wilson's comment created an immediate firestorm, and it was a poor way for him to handle himself in a situation like that. There is nothing wrong with Wilson opposing the president's healthcare plan. He just chose a lousy way to get his point across.

When a president addresses a joint session of Congress, he deserves respect. Even if a politician strongly opposes the president's ideology, he must remain quiet and patient. We do not live in a third-world, banana republic where anything goes in the halls of government.

Part of what makes America unique is the ability of our lawmakers to force themselves to remain relatively civil with each other even when dealing with divisive issues like healthcare.

In the future, I hope Rep. Wilson will express his displeasure with the president in more appropriate ways.

Unfortunately, there have been other aspects of this debate that have been much worse than Wilson's slip of the tongue. The race card is being played more and more in this debate, and it is hurting all of us.

This revealed itself most prominently when former President Jimmy Carter claimed that racism may have been at the heart of Wilson's outburst.

"I think (Wilson's outburst) is based on racism," Carter said at a town hall meeting, according to the Associated Press. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."

At this point, it must be pointed out that President Carter has offered no proof that Wilson is racist in any way. Apparently, nothing has been found that can expose Wilson in this area.

And yet, the former president felt compelled to make an inflammatory comment like that at a time when the intensity of public debate over healthcare is blisteringly hot. Bad timing, President Carter.

The race card is also being played in the media. On several occasions, MSNBC has labeled politicians and protesters who oppose the president as being racist. This should not be a surprise because MSNBC has been in President Obama's back pocket when it comes to favorable coverage for some time now.

Conversely, we are kidding ourselves if we believe that racial bias is not playing some role in the debate. A person would have to be totally naive to believe that there are not people who oppose the president for racial reasons. As long as there are lunatic fringes in politics, we will always have stupid people who cannot let go of their racist viewpoints.

However, I do not believe this is at the heart of the opposition many have to Obama's healthcare reform plan.

After all, more than 65 million people voted to elect Obama president, so the playing of the race card has lost some of its punch.

When people play the card for no reason, the real loser is the American public. Its overuse is a primary reason why we don't hear more open discussion on the topic.

I genuinely believe many white people will not discuss this topic because they are afraid the other side will play the card if they disagree with something that is said.

And that's sad.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's only Week 3, but the Titans face a must win against the Jets

Well, dust off whatever cliché you think is appropriate. The Titans' backs are against the wall. They are facing a must-win situation. It is do or die for them. If they lose, making the playoffs will require making the biggest comeback since Lazarus.

I think you get the picture. Most of us did not expect Tennessee to begin the season 0-2, and an 0-3 start will put the team in a gigantic hole. The defense appeared unable to stop the pass in last week's 34-31 loss to the Texans. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub carved the Titans up with more than 350 yards passing.

This week, the Titans visit New York to play the 2-0 Jets. Perhaps the most disheartening thing about this match up is that the Jets played the Texans in week one and completely shut down their offense. The Texans offense scored zero points. New Head Coach Rex Ryan has brought in his blitzing defense that he used in Baltimore, and for two weeks, he has baffled offenses.

'Baffled' might be the right word to describe the Titans. Other than running back Chris Johnson, the team's performance so far has been baffling. Broken coverages in the secondary, an anemic pass rush, and erratic play by quarterback Kerry Collins have created most of the team's problems. Johnson's wonderful performance against the Texans was wasted because of this. He rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns, and he added nine receptions that produced another score. He leads the team in yards rushing and pass receptions.

Based on what I have seen so far, it is tough to pick the Titans. The Jets have played far better this year, plus the game is being played in their home stadium. The odds are stacked against Tennessee.

I'm going with my heart on this one.

The pick: Tennessee 16 New York 13

Other picks: Detroit over Washington (yes, I realize I'm picking the Lions to win), Minnesota over San Francisco, New England over Atlanta, Philadelphia over Kansas City, N.Y. Giants over Tampa Bay, Baltimore over Cleveland, Houston over Jacksonville, Dallas over Carolina

Last week: 4-5 (.444), Overall: 13-5 (.722)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vols seek to avoid Florida letdown as Ohio comes to Knoxville

Tennessee played hard and showed improvement during last week's loss to Florida, but it was a loss nonetheless. Though we were competitive, I have been distressed this week as some Volunteer fans have talked with glee about the game as a moral victory.

Moral victory? Is this what it has come to? Say it isn't so. The Tennessee football program is one of the elite programs in college football history. We rank in the top ten when it comes to all-time wins, bowl appearances, and bowl wins. Let's drop the talk about moral victories. We should set the bar higher.

As for the team, we pretty much know what the Vols are at this point. We have a good defense, a limited offense, and so-so special teams. The team still has a long way to go.

This week, Ohio University from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) comes to Knoxville. They are 2-1 and are coached by former Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats defeated Cal Poly last week 28-10, and their only loss was in the season opener to Connecticut 23-16. Quarterback Theo Scott has passed for 397 yards and six touchdowns this season, but he has only completed 50 percent of his passes. Running back Chris Garrett leads the rushing attack with 169 yards for the year, including 91 yards last week.

Not a lot of analysis is needed for this game. This is a game Tennessee has to win if it is serious about having a winning record. The Florida game was so emotional that the Volunteers will likely be a little flat to start the game. And, as we all know, teams from the MAC relish the opportunity to knock off big-time programs in their stadium.

It won't be pretty, but the Vols will find a way to win.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Ohio 16

Other SEC picks: Alabama over Arkansas, Florida over Kentucky, Georgia over Arizona State, LSU over Mississippi State, Ole Miss over South Carolina, Vanderbilt over Rice, Auburn over Ball State

Last week: 8-1 (.889), Overall: 23-2 (.920)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Quote of the day: 'Bigger than Jesus'

"When they started burning our records...that was a real shock, the physical burning. I couldn't go away knowing I'd created another little piece of hate in the world so I apologized." -- John Lennon commenting on when people starting burning Beatles' records in reaction to his comment about the band being more influential with young people than Jesus.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane shine on 'Rough Mix'

A nice byproduct that emerges when a member of an established band works on solo music is that it gives him the opportunity to do songs he ordinarily would not get to do. For Pete Townshend, guitarist and primary songwriter for the Who, the album Rough Mix (released in 1977) gave him the opportunity to do just that. Songs on this album are of a totally different flavor when compared to his better-known work.

With Ronnie Lane, formerly of the Faces, this record comes across as the chance for two successful musicians to step away from the limelight and the responsibilities they carry in their career. What shines through here are two men who love music, and for once, get the chance to make music they like with no concern of expectations. They do not have to worry about writing songs that sound like the Who or the Faces.

This is especially obvious on Townshend's 'Street in the City.' Completely orchestrated except for his acoustic guitar, this song is a breathtaking departure. Spun around a lyric about activities on a city street on a given day, the orchestra builds and builds the tension until punctured by a single gasp from Townshend.

Throughout his career, Townshend has always shown the willingness to stretch himself and attempt to expand the conventions of rock music (for example, the ambitious rock opera Tommy). However, on this record, he kept his ambition at arm's length. Driven simply by acoustic guitar and harmonica on 'Misunderstood,' the singer laments that he would love to be the type of person who could destroy a person with just a glance. However, by the end of the song, he has to admit that he is so simple that people can see through him like he is made of glass.

The best song on the album, however, is one of Lane's. The lovely ballad 'Annie' has the charm of an Irish folk song. Driven primarily by accordian and violin, Lane's vocals contain an awkward grace that only a mother could love.

Throw in guest appearances by Eric Clapton and Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts, and this album is really a hidden treasure. The public does not get to hear many recordings like this anymore. It is a shame, but maybe that is what helps make this effort so special.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Post 9/11: Life is better.....right?

About a week ago marked the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that significantly altered how our nation approaches life.

Let's face it; a whole lot has changed. Since 2001, we have been at war in Afghanistan and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Plus, homeland security is being taken much more seriously than it was back then.

The event has had a huge impact on the political landscape. Every politician running for office has to be ready to answer questions that specifically address our nation’s safety.

However, though this event had a profound impact on us, we continue to effectively adjust to post-9/11 life. An excellent example of this is how we commemorated the event last week.

In the first year or so after the attacks, discussion and analysis of the events was very low key. Media coverage often focused exclusively on memorial services that remembered the events, but not much more than that.

We rarely saw the re-broadcasting of the planes as they slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York or the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C.

That is pretty remarkable when one thinks about it. In this age of 24-hour-a-day news coverage, even the most unremarkable news stories get overanalyzed if they have compelling video to accompany it.

Or heaven forbid that a big celebrity should die. Michael Jackson died in late June and some cable channels still regularly run programming featuring him. Never mind that these same channels would not touch him with a 10-foot pole in the weeks leading up to his death.

If somebody like Jackson will generate good ratings, our media will beat the story to death.

This did not happen with the 9/11 attacks. Despite having some of the most compelling video of the television age, most media outlets showed remarkable restraint when it came to showing it.

In one of the rare instances of common sense winning out over the push for ratings, the video of the plane attacks was rarely shown. I suppose it was out of respect for those who lost loved ones and for the nation as a whole.

In recent years, this has changed. Last week, there was a lot more analysis and commentary about the tragedy that I can remember since it happened. On the anniversary, the History Channel devoted most of its programming to this event. If it wasn't the actual attack itself, then there was substantial programming about the history of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. For the most part, the shows were thoughtful and tasteful. In other words, it was an excellent history lesson for us all.

Perhaps the must important aspect in the aftermath of 9/11 is that another attack like it has not happened on American soil. When the attacks first happened, there was rhetoric that these attacks ushered in an age in which the United States would now have to deal with life similar to other countries.

This has not happened. The United States has not turned into a larger version of Israel, which has to deal with terrorist attacks on its soil on a frequent basis.

For all the criticism our government receives, it deserves credit for this. When observing how easy it is for people to enter this country illegally, it makes our country that much more vulnerable to our enemies.

However, the United States remains relatively safe from outside forces.

Let's hope our leaders continue to make homeland security a point of emphasis.

We made ourselves vulnerable once before. We better not get that complacent again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tennessee Titans should beat Houston this weekend to earn first win

After the NFL's first week we know one thing about the Tennessee Titans: the team will not equal last year's start. Last year, the Titans began 10-0 but their 13-10 loss to Pittsburgh guaranteed that will not happen. Actually, the Titans played better than the Steelers, but let the defending Super Bowl champs off the hook.

The defense was fantastic except when it counted. Late in regulation and in overtime, the Titans insisted on sticking with a four-man pass rush, and they repeatedly failed to get pressure on the quarterback. If a pass rush cannot threaten a quarterback, then it does not matter how good the secondary is. Sooner or later, the quarterback will pick them apart.

This week, the Houston Texans visit Nashville, and they were likely the biggest disappointment in week one. The Texans had received a lot of pre-season hype, and Sports Illustrated picked them to win the AFC South. Against the New York Jets, their offense laid an egg as they lost 24-7. Their only touchdown was by their defense. Quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Steve Slaton, and wide receiver Andre Johnson did absolutely nothing. Slaton rushed for only 17 yards, while Johnson caught four passes for 35 yards.

However, the Titans must also increase their offensive production. Though they played a stout Pittsburgh defense, the Titans got nothing done on the ground last week. The Titans simply won't win consistently if they do that. Running back Chris Johnson could not break a big play, and LenDale White still looks like he is running in quicksand.

Playing at home, the Titans should beat the Texans. However, don't be deceived. Both teams have a lot to prove. This will be a close match up that goes to the final minutes.

The pick: Tennessee 20 Houston 17

Other picks: Atlanta over Carolina, New England over N.Y. Jets, Chicago over Pittsburgh, Dallas over N.Y. Giants, Indianapolis over Miami, San Diego over Baltimore, Green Bay over Cincinnati, Buffalo over Tampa Bay

Last week: 9-0 (1.000)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Volunteers face a serious whipping this Saturday at Florida

I have been a serious college football fan for about 30 years, and the Florida Gators may be the best team I have ever seen. I know some of the Miami and Florida State teams get the nod from many experts, but the Gators appear as impressive as both those programs when they were at their peak. Florida won both the SEC (the nation's toughest conference) and national championships last year. They return almost their entire defense, and also have quarterback Tim Tebow who may go down as one of the top five college football players in history.

This Saturday the Tennessee Volunteers go to the Swamp to play Florida as both teams open SEC play. Last week, the Vols' offense melted down in a 19-15 loss to UCLA at Neyland Stadium. If Tennessee could only manage 15 points at home against the Bruins, can we expect them to do better at Florida? No. The Vols weren't as good as their opening game thrashing of Western Kentucky sort of indicated. Really, the Vols aren't much better on offense than they were last year (at least at this point).

Much has been made out of the derogatory comments Tennessee Coach Lane Kiffin made about Florida's program earlier this year, but this will not impact the game much. The Gators have more talent, better depth, and better coaches than the Volunteers right now. It is as simple as that.

Saturday will be a day to forget for Tennessee fans, but in the long run, maybe it will do some good. Maybe a thrashing on national television will convince more recruits to come to Knoxville because they will have a better chance to play as freshmen next year.

Let's hope there will be at least one silver lining in Saturday's dark cloud.

The pick: Florida 45 Tennessee 6

Other SEC picks: Georgia over Arkansas, Vanderbilt over Mississippi State, Auburn over West Virginia, Kentucky over Louisville, LSU over Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss over Southeastern Louisiana, South Carolina over Florida Atlantic, Alabama over North Texas

Last week: 5-1 (.833), Overall: 15-1 (.938)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

John Fogerty's 'The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again' is a first-rate country, bluegrass tribute

For those who believe that a lot of the music coming out of Nashville these days is bland and faceless, take a listen to John Fogerty's new album The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again.

Frankly, this album embraces country and bluegrass music in a way that we are not hearing in Music City. Steel guitars, fiddles, and mandolins are everywhere, and the entire album pays homage to a classic American art form.

Fogerty fans know this album is a sequel of sorts to the original Blue Ridge Rangers' album he released in the early 1970s. He played all the instruments on the original. Though his virtuosity was impressive on that album, he wisely brought in a tight band and guest stars on this one.

Like the original Blue Ridge Rangers' album, this new one also focuses primarily on cover versions of songs Fogerty admires. The cut getting the most airplay right now is his version of the Everly Brothers' 'When Will I Be Loved,' which is a duet with Bruce Springsteen.

Fogerty brings in superstar help on another tune, too. Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmitt sing on Rick Nelson's 'Garden Party.' Though Nelson often got dismissed as just another teen idol, the man had talent. It's good to see that song get more exposure.

If nothing else, the songs Fogerty chose to cover show that he has good taste. Songs on the album include: Buck Owens' 'I Don't Care (Just As Long As You Love Me),' John Prine's 'Paradise,' Ray Price's 'I'll Be There,' and his own 'Change in the Weather.'

Though Fogerty's vocal range has diminished over the years, it is still an important ingredient on this album. When he burst on the scene with Creedence Clearwater Revival, he voice had a deep boom to it that made one think of Howlin' Wolf.

Though that has faded, his vocals on 'Moody River' and John Denver's 'Back Home Again' show that he has successfully changed as time has passed.

The bottom line is this is a first-rate album. Buy it, download it, or do whatever it takes to own it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New England Patriots throwback uniforms are worth keeping

Last month, I commented that the Tennessee Titans throwback uniforms are fantastic. Well, include the New England Patriots throwbacks that they wore in tonight's game in that category, too.

Actually, all four teams in tonight's two games wore uniforms that were modeled on the uniforms they wore in 1960. This is the 50th anniversary of the old American Football League, and most of the teams that had their start in the AFL will be wearing their old uniforms periodically throughout the season.

The Patriots throwback uniform is vastly superior to what they usually wear. Their usual helmet is one of the blandest in the NFL. It is a silver helmet with a generic logo. The uniforms they wore tonight included vividly red jerseys with the classic helmet showing a patriot snapping a football.

It's a great look.

Still, Tom Brady is no Peyton Manning.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Where are the jobs?

Recently, many economic experts have been saying that the worst of the recession is behind us. If the recession is not already over, then it is in its final stages, which will likely lead to a brighter 2010.

If this is true, it is definitely good news. It has been a turbulent last year or so. The banking industry, the auto industry, our 401Ks, and a whole lot of other areas have taken it on the chin.

Everybody has suffered in some way it seems like. However, there is one missing piece to the puzzle. If the economy is recovering, where are the jobs?

Last week, it was announced that our national unemployment rate for August was 9.7 percent. This was a jump of three-tenths of a percent, and it was higher than expected. Most economists were expecting an increase of only one-tenth of a percent.

August's rate was a 26-year high, and many experts have said this rate will continue to grow.

"It's good to see the rate of job losses slow down," said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Insight in a recent interview with the Associated Press. But "we're still on track to hit 10 percent (unemployment) before we are done."

If unemployment is going to rise for the foreseeable future, it is hard to get excited about the talk of economic recovery.

It must be noted at this point that it is understood that unemployment is a lagging indicator when it comes to determining whether our economy is coming out of a recession. After all, employers have to be confident things are getting better before starting to hire people.

Although this may be the case, how can we be more optimistic about the economy when the amount of unemployed people stands at 15 million and continues to grow?

For example, the new unemployment rate of 9.7 percent does not take into consideration the number of people who have settled for part-time jobs or those who have given up looking for a job altogether. Depending on the source a person goes by, the 'underemployment' rate in the country may actually be as high as 16.8 percent.

Additionally, between now and the end of the year, it is believed that 1.3 million unemployed people will lose benefits. This means they will have exhausted all the benefits available to them. They will be left with nothing.

At this point, I believe it is appropriate to start holding the Obama administration more responsible for what we are seeing. In the president's defense, he inherited a mess. I wrote in this column previously that we did not get into this mess overnight, and it would take time for things to improve.

Well, the time for accountability has arrived. In a week, President Obama will reach the nine-month anniversary mark of his administration. This means his term will be about 20 percent complete.

He is one-fifth of the way through his term, and despite giving his policies ample time to impact the economy, it is apparent unemployment will continue to worsen.

In recent weeks, we have seen repeated examples of citizens holding politicians responsible for policies that are being presented. If we are genuinely in a season of accountability, then more accountability has to be applied regarding unemployment.

Finding a job and providing for one's family is one of the most fundamental needs of a person. If the government unsuccessfully oversees a marketplace and the result is a loss of jobs over a long period of time, then there is something wrong in the approach.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Volunteers will beat UCLA to avenge last year's disaster

If a person wanted to pinpoint where Tennessee's season starting going wrong last year, all he would have to do is revisit the opening game loss at UCLA. Despite effectively establishing the running game, the Vols insisted on throwing the ball too much. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who was only making his second career start, wound up throwing 41 passes as Tennessee lost 27-24 in overtime.

It is highly unlikely Crompton will throw that much this week as UCLA visits Neyland Stadium. The only way this will happen is if the Volunteers fall way behind and have to make a big comeback.

As we learned in last week's win against Western Kentucky, Tennessee is committed to running the ball and has the horses in the backfield to do it. Montario Hardesty looked the best he has ever looked, and Bryce Brown showed flashes of what he might become. Those two combined for 271 yards rushing by themselves.

True, Western Kentucky is a struggling team, and fans should not get too pumped up over a thrashing of a small program. Still, the Vols effort and intensity were pleasing. And it was great to seek Crompton throw five touchdowns and have a smile on his face while doing it.

As for UCLA, the Bruins opened with a 33-14 win against San Diego State. They fell behind early 14-3 before rallying. Quarterback Kevin Prince passed for 176 yards and a touchdown. Ironically, he is the quarterback Tennessee would have faced last year if he had not blown out his knee.

Though Tennessee's 63-7 win last week has generated a lot of excitement, a little perspective is needed. Throughout the first quarter against Western Kentucky, the Vols' offense looked similar to the 2008 team. A fumble, a muffed punt, and a tipped pass that was intercepted highlighted a frustrating quarter. An eight-touchdown win overshadows mistakes like that, but the team showed it is still capable of inconsistency.

Because of this, don't fall into the trap of believing Tennessee has come further than it really has. The Volunteers will win this week, but it will be rough going.

The pick: Tennessee 24 UCLA 20

Other SEC picks: Georgia over South Carolina, Auburn over Mississippi State, LSU over Vanderbilt, Alabama over Florida International, Florida over Troy

Last week: 11-0 (1.000)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tennessee Titans will open the season with a loss at Pittsburgh

It has been approximately nine months since the Tennessee Titans laid a colossal egg and lost to Baltimore in the AFC playoffs. Since then, the Titans have said that they have used that loss as a motivation for this season. We'll see how they do when the season starts tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Of course, the Steelers won the Super Bowl last season, and they are basic and solid on offense. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes was one of the great passes in Super Bowl history. However, the Steelers remain very much a power offense. Running backs Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall will anchor a hard-nosed attack.

Defensively, the Steelers remain one of the league's best. The unit posted 51 sacks last year, and Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison is tenacious.

As for the Titans, we all know that the team's offense flows through the running game. Running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White are a formidable one-two punch. However, expect Johnson to get more of the workload Thursday. Fast, slashing runners tend to do better against Pittsburgh, which is Johnson's specialty. White's physical approach plays right into the Steelers' hands.

This is a tough opener for the Titans -- too tough. The Steelers will be on a high as they officially celebrate last season's championship with their fans. Plus, they are still mad because we stomped on their precious Terrible Towels in Nashville last year.

The pick: Pittsburgh 21 Tennessee 16

Other picks: Indianapolis over Jacksonville, Philadelphia over Carolina, New York Giants over Washington, Atlanta over Miami, Dallas over Tampa Bay, Green Bay over Chicago, New England over Buffalo, Seattle over St. Louis

Monday, September 7, 2009

MTSU will host Minnesota to start its 2010 college football season

Middle Tennessee State University will host the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten conference to open its 2010 football season, according to a recent report in The Tennessean. The game will be played on Thursday, Sept. 2.

This continues the recent success the program has enjoyed when it comes to scheduling home games with teams from BCS conferences. This year, the Blue Raiders host Mississippi State from the Southeastern Conference. In recent years, they have hosted Maryland and Virginia from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It is interesting that this game will be played on a Thursday. As we saw last week, teams playing on Thursday of the opening week of the season get more exposure. Even unsexy match ups like the South Carolina/North Carolina State game got a lot of attention.

Nice work MTSU.

Now, let's improve those special teams.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

College football has returned in all its raging glory

Like most men my age, I have an avid interest in sports. Of course, I follow certain sports more closely than others, and that is why this time of year is so enjoyable for me.

This is because I am a huge football fan. I enjoy all types of football, but college football is my favorite.

I know professional football is the king bee when it comes to this sport, but college football has a flavor to it that is impossible to beat.

In many ways, I am an old school kind of guy. I think this is part of the reason why the college brand is so appealing. On campuses around the country, traditions have been born and adhered to for decades, and this is something not often found in our quick changing society.

I know that a person can say that about professional and high school football as well, and I won't disagree with that. However, college football is different.

For example, even though the NFL dates back to the 1920s, the cutthroat business approach that the league employs sometimes leaves a bad taste in my mouth. When a circumstance stands in the way of the mission of a team, it is often eliminated with ruthless efficiency.

When a person cannot physically perform to the level that is needed, a team dumps a player for the good of the organization and fans. Additionally, the long-term health complications many NFL players receive for careers that only last a few years is something that is not talked about as much as it should.

We should remember that the next time we are watching a Tennessee Titans game and see a player sprawled out on the ground because of a brutal hit.

While these issues are applicable to college football as well, I don't think we see it to the degree that we see it in professional sports. The players are younger, and they are in a situation where they can better themselves by pursing a college degree.

Professional football seems like the end of a journey for many players that leave them with no place to go. College football allows us to watch the transformation of teenagers into young men.

I know I am probably over analyzing this topic. The bottom line is that college football is fun to watch. It has pageantry and rivalries that cannot be touched.

When the Tennessee Volunteers play at Florida in a couple of weeks, it won't just be two schools knocking heads. It will be one school representing the goodness of college athletics playing against an evil empire that appears untouchable.

We don't see rivalries like that in professional sports.

Of course, this weekend is the first weekend in which there is a full schedule of games. In recent years, Labor Day weekend has been the unofficial kickoff of the season with games scheduled on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

The popularity of the sport has caused the NFL to back off somewhat and move the start of its schedule back to mid-September. When something can make the powerful NFL adjust its schedule, it must be conceded that it is really popular.

So, sports fans, sit back and enjoy the next four months or so. Expect to hear debates and arguments about whether college football should have a playoff. Expect to hear ESPN's regional bias as it shamelessly promotes the Big 10 conference as the nation’s best.

Above all, expect to be entertained. Good entertainment is tough to come by these days.

A person must take advantage of it while he can.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tennessee will beat Western Kentucky, but don't get too excited

Saturday's battle between Tennessee and Western Kentucky is the most anticipated season opener for the Volunteers in several years. Of course, Lane Kiffin is making his sideline debut as new head coach, and his approach has fans excited about what they will see.

However, 'caution' is likely the most important word to remember as the season starts. True, there has been a good vibe coming out of Tennessee's camp in recent weeks, but everybody (fans, media, coaches, players, etc.) must be careful not to allow the hype to get ahead of reality.

The Vols were bad on offense last year, and until proven otherwise, we must assume this is what we will get this year. In 2005, the Vols flopped on offense, and after that, it was thought that those problems were fixed. Unfortunately, a lot of the same problems returned last year. Inconsistent quarterback play and an inability to consistently run block doomed the Vols in those seasons.

All eyes will be on freshman running back Bryce Brown to see if he can deliver what is expected. Between him and senior Montario Hardesty, the Vols are deep at running back. This is probably the healthiest Hardesty has been during his Tennessee career.

Reports during preseason practice regarding quarterback Jonathan Crompton have been promising. At this point, all the Vols want from him is consistency. The Southeastern Conference has some real issues when it comes to quarterback play. Other than Florida's Tim Tebow and Ole Miss' Jevan Snead there isn't a lot of depth league wide. If Crompton is consistent, he could be one of the conference's better quarterbacks.

As for the Western Kentucky game, the Vols definitely have more talent despite depth concerns at some positions. Because of this, the Vols should win, but don't expect a lot this early. This is basically the same team that lost to Wyoming and narrowly beat Northern Illinois last year.

Until we see differently, the Vols can't be expected to post big wins even over small opponents.

The pick: Tennessee 24 Western Kentucky 10

Other SEC picks: Alabama over Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State over Georgia, LSU over Washington, Vanderbilt over Western Carolina, Ole Miss over Memphis, Arkansas over Missouri State, Auburn over Louisiana Tech, Florida over Charleston Southern, Kentucky over Miami (OH), Mississippi State over Jackson State