May 01, 2009

Eric Atkins is Irish, the CNNSI football poll, BCS controversies, and the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby

Before we get to a little Friday rundown, sad news coming out of The Mirage this morning. Legendary performer Danny Gans has passed away. Granted, I've never seen the guy perform, but he has the funniest billboard on the Las Vegas strip. R.I.P. Danny Gans. You've given me many good laughs through the years.

6) Big news coming out of The Pit this week with a big new commitment in the class of 2010. Point guard Eric Atkins has verbally committed to play for the Irish.

I like the look of this guy, and I'm a fan of his skin color. I know he's "only" a three star player, but there are a lot of good players in the Maryland area. It sounds like he's quick and highly skilled. I gotta think he'll be the Notre Dame point guard right out of the gate in 2010 since we don't really have anyone else on the roster who is a natural point guard.

While I've been critical of Brey's recruiting, I actually do trust Brey's eye for talent to some degree. He's almost like the Jim Hendry of recruiting. He'll have 3-4 bad signings, but when he really needs to find a gem, he'll go out and get it done. If Atkins was his top target for a position where he absolutely needs to find a starer, I'm going to believe that he's probably a good player. My biggest beef with Brey's recruiting has always been that it's too sporadic when he's looking for depth. He'll get a Tory Jackson or an Atkins but then supplements those guys with a Jon Peoples or a Ty Proffitt.

Here's an early look at the 2010 roster with eligibility listed. There obviously could be some roster changes and new recruits by then:

PG - Atkins (fr)
SG - Hansbrough (sr)
SF - Martin (jr)
PF - Nash (sr)
C - Knight (so)

Bench: Scott (jr), Brooks (so), Cooley (so), Broghammer (so), Abromaitis (jr)

On paper, that team doesn't look bad, but it will probably depend on how some of these young guys turn out. At least it's a full roster.

I gotta think we're going to see another guard coming in for that 2010 class. With Hansborough out after 2010 and a bunch of big bodies from the class of 2009, I think Brey will target another guard. My only hope is that Brey doesn't set the bar low on this guard because he's already got Atkins in the fold. Go get the best prospect you can get and actually play the guy!! Don't sign a Ty Proffit type who you are going to stash on the bench. Do what Villanova has been doing with a bevy of talented guards. We need a quality 3rd/4th guard who can come off the bench and give us 15-20 minutes a night.

Should be interesting to see what all these big men look like next year. There is going to be a lot of playing time up for grabs in the paint in 2010 and beyond. Between Cooley and Brog and Knight and Abro, we will have some competition for playing time.

5) CNNSI released their post-spring practice college football poll the other day. Good to see the Irish in there at #25. I'd rather start the year in the poll than not in it, and there should be some room to maneuver if we can start out well.

My feeling on this upcoming season is that it all comes down to these first three games. If this team could somehow manage to win those first three games, I think the buzz surrounding this program would really pick up. The schedule is there to start out 5-0 before the USC game. If that happens, I think ND could suddenly be on the verge of the top 10, and ESPN College Gameday would probably be salivating about a USC-ND matchup. When was the last time ESPN Gameday was in South Bend?? USC-ND in 2005?

As for the overall poll, no big surprise to see Florida and Texas on top. Those two look like they are on a collision course to play in the national title game. Texas' schedule is really favorable.

09/05 Louisiana Monroe
09/12 at Wyoming
09/19 Texas Tech
09/26 Texas El Paso
10/10 Colorado
10/17 Oklahoma (at The Cotton Bowl)
10/24 at Missouri
10/31 at Oklahoma State
11/07 Central Florida
11/14 at Baylor
11/21 Kansas
11/26 at Texas A&M

No Nebraska, and their nonconference schedule consists of Louisiana Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP, and Central Florida. That's an abomination. The only thing bailing them out for strength of schedule purposes is that Oklahoma State is a top 10 team and Texas Tech remains pretty strong. Three ranked opponents for Texas this year plus a possible Big 12 Championship game. Unfortunately, that fairly mild schedule somehow tops our schedule, which currently features one ranked team. The Kevin White era!!

The SEC is loaded again this year with five teams in the top 15. Florida has 17 starters back. As Verne Lundquist would say, MY GOODNESS!! Barring some sort of major bout of complacency, they are the prohibitive favorites to win the title again next year.

With that said, aren't we overdue for a major BCS controversy this year where a 1 loss SEC team that runs through the gauntlet gets beaten out by an undefeated Big 10 or Big East team?? Isn't that inevitable?? Heck, last year we were a last second Iowa field goal away from Penn State playing in the national title game over Florida. Yes, that Penn State team that lost by three touchdowns to USC in the Rose Bowl. Could you imagine if that had happened?? It was that close.

I think it will happen some time in the next few years. The BCS is as vulnerable as ever to a West Virginia-Penn State national title game type scenario. And if it does happen, the SEC is going to blow a gasket. If an undefeated Penn State or Ohio State goes over a one loss Florida team that beats LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida State, Bama, and wins the SEC Championship game, we might have a full blow secession movement on our hands in the southeastern portion of the United States. Heck, the way Texas governor Rick Perry (shouldn't he really go by "Ricky" at this point?) is talking, we might have a secession movement no matter what! And I'll be 100% behind the good folks of the Southeastern Conference. I'm not even joking that I would take a TWO LOSS SEC Champion over an undefeated Big Ten or Big East or ACC champ. After all we have seen in the last few years (Florida destroying Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, LSU destroying Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, the SEC winning the last three national championship games, Penn State getting destroyed in the Rose Bowl), how could we possibly have a national title game without the SEC champion in it?? It would be completely unfathomable to me, but remember this paragraph when it happens someday. Because it will.

4) As for this USC quarterback situation, I'm really interested to see what happens out there. Even though Aaron Corp has been named the starter for now, the impression that I'm getting is that Matt Barkley may already be the best quarterback on the USC roster. People are talking about this guy like he's going to be a superstar and a virtual lock to be the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft someday. Mel Kiper already guaranteed it in fact. It almost seems inevitable that he will win the starting QB job at some point this year if not by opening day.

But with that said, he's a true freshman!! I don't care how good he is, it would be hard for me to see Pete Carroll handing over the keys to a program that competes for a national title every year to a true freshman. Then again, Aaron Corp has never played a down either, so he might not be that much farther along than Barkley. What type of leash is he going to have on Corp?? Is he going to wait for Corp to lose a game, or is it going to be a situation where he gives both QBs some playing time and then sees how it shakes out?? With some big games right out of the chute against Ohio State and Cal and Notre Dame, Carroll doesn't really have a ton of time to test drive these guys.

USC is so loaded at WR and RB and has several All-American type offensive linemen, but they probably need to at least get adequate play out of their quarterbacks to have a shot at a national title. I think their defense will be fine. They lost a lot, but it sounds like the guys coming up through the system are just as good as the guys they are replacing. I wouldn't doubt it. Until I actually see USC take a step back as a program, I won't believe it. I expect them to be formidable again this year, and I expect them to destroy someone in the Rose Bowl yet again.

3) This testimony from a BCS official about the bowls losing their influence if we have a playoff is a load of nonsense. I love the bowl games, but why can't we use the bowls to create a real postseason tournament?? Who cares about half these bowl games?? Was anyone really that excited about Virginia Tech-Cincinnati in a meaningless Orange Bowl game last year or Alabama-Utah?? No. Those games are just glorified exhibition games. Heck, Bama barely seemed to be up for the game.

Now, imagine what those games would be like if they were part of a tournament to determine a national champion. Suddenly those games would be huge!! Alabama-Utah for a right to go to the title game would be spectacular.

Why are these bowl games so sacred that we can't even begin to discuss a postseason format without getting their approval?? These bowl commissioners are starting to sound like union reps from General Motors. They know that their gravy train could be in jeopardy, so they are doing everything they can to hold off the tide. The John Junkers of the world won't be able to wear their goofy sports coats and backslap with Mack Brown at the coaches luncheon. Boo hoo. I actually am hoping that Obama steps in and gets it done.

College football is STARVING for a postseason tournament to decide a champion. The scenario above with an undefeated Big Ten team that beat no one waltzing in over a one loss Florida team cannot happen. It would be a complete joke, and it would make college football even less legitimate than it already is. Unfortunately, with the way the BCS is set up to the advantage of teams with weaker schedules from weaker conferences, that threat is always possible. Unless we adopt the belt system (which I would be ok with), there needs to be a postseason format to make sure we have the best teams from the strongest conferences represented.

While I think there should be some consideration to protect the college football regular season (which I agree is the best regular season out there), I think there is a middle ground that can easily be located. I don't want a 16 team tournament or even an 8 team tournament. You don't need all that because those teams have already lost a definitive game in the regular season to get knocked out of consideration. My feeling is that you only need four teams in a postseason tournament. Why would that devalue the regular season?? You'd still have to go undefeated or have one loss just to get considered. Last year, I would have had Florida, USC, Texas, and Oklahoma. For my money, all of those teams had an equal claim to playing in the title game based on what they did in the regular season, so I don't see how including all four of them would hurt the regular season. Could you imagine Florida-Texas and Oklahoma-USC national semifinals with Florida-USC in the championship game?? MY GOODNESS!! I almost passed out just thinking about it. That would be the two greatest sports weekends ever.

2) Congrats to Tim Brown on getting elected into the College Football Hall of Fame. One of the all time greats and almost definitely a lock for the NFL Hall of Fame someday. Also, a big congrats to Chris Spielman. I've enjoyed listening to him the last few years on local radio. The man somehow manages to talk football 365 days a year. Great day for the Irish and Buckeye Nations.

1) Finally, it's time for one of the most underrated events on the sports calendar. The 135th running of the Kentucky Derby. Always an exciting day of racing. Plus, we get a reunion with Tom Hammond!! Always great to hear his pipes again (although I will admit it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I hear him now because I associate him with epic meltdowns at Notre Dame stadium these days). I wonder if Charlie Weis will make a return visit this year. If so, pencil that in for a 500 post thread on NDNation from enraged ND fans about how Charlie should be in his office instead of enjoying a day at the races. Yippee.

For my money, horse racing is the most underrated sport in the country. I've had the pleasure to attend the Bluegrass Stakes down at Keeneland in Lexington the last five years, and it's always one of my favorite events of the year. Between the gambling and the pageantry and the horses and the beautiful grounds and picket fences and excitement of the races, there's nothing like spending the day at a great racing venue and watching the ponies. The horses are absolutely spectacular to watch up close, and people down in Kentucky are as passionate and knowledgeable about horse racing as any sports fan could be about anything.

As for this year's race, I'm not even remotely a horse racing expert and have zero idea who will actually win, but the only strategy that I've found to be somewhat successful is to go with the proven jockeys. That's always my philosophy. I don't care about practice times or weight or speed or any of that. If a horse has a big time jockey riding him, I'm on board.

My go-to jockeys through the years at Keeneland have always been Pat Day and Edgar Prado. Now that Pat Day has retired, I'm an Edgar man all the way. He's like the Tom Izzo of jockeys. He might not win every time, but he's not going to come up small. I don't think I've ever lost money betting on Edgar Prado at least finishing somewhere in the money. Prado is getting up there in age a little bit, but he's usually the first guy I check when I look at the Derby field. He's a Hall of Famer for a reason.

With that said, I'm not picking Edgar's horse this year, Dunkirk. I don't like these "late closers." Those guys always get behind too far in the crowded field at the Derby. I think you have to at least be towards the front to have a shot to make a late push at the Derby. There are 20 horses in this field. That's insanely crowded. I would only consider Dunkirk if you're looking for a "show" type side bet.

A lot of people like this Friesan Fire horse, but I don't know anything about the jockey. He's only 21 years old I guess. That makes me nervous. I do like that he was bred in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

I think I'm going with this Pioneer of the Mile horse as my official, uneducated pick. Garrett Gomez is a great jockey, Baffert is a Hall of Fame trainer, and it sounds like POTN has been a dominant horse out in California. Plus, he's got pedigree, and it sounds like Gomez picked him over Dunkirk. Bloodlines!! The only thing people are concerned about is the switch to the dirt track from the Poly surface. It seems like people always freak out about horses that have to switch surfaces, but I think that's overblown. If he's a great horse, he'll win on any surface.

The favorite never wins though, so I'll throw out a couple sleepers. How about General Quarters??? I watched him come out of nowhere to win the Bluegrass Stakes, so I'm pulling for him to win. His trainer is a 75 year old rookie trainer who used to be a high school principal. Pretty cool story. Plus, love that jockey! Leparoux is one of the top young guns out there. He's 20-1 right now, so he could be a good bet for a longshot. I'm definitely betting on him for a show and probably betting on him in a trifecta of some sorts.

The other sleeper I'll throw out there is Papa Clem. Bejarano is another young gun jockey who has been making some noise.

Two things to know if you are just getting into the Derby or planning a party this year.

1) The Mint Julep -- Ok, I'm not really a big whiskey man, but it's the Derby! You gotta choke down a Mint Julep just to get in the spirit of things. I know the "official" Kentucky Derby Mint Julep involves Early Times whiskey, but I'd recommend using Maker's Mark or Woodford Reserve. Go with the bourbon over a whiskey.

2) The singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" is a tradition unlike any other before the Derby. The best state song in America in my opinion. Goosebumps!


Dan said...

This song has something to say about that claim!

Big C said...

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