Friday, October 31

Back in the saddle, the Friday Random Ten+5 is kicking names and taking ass. Wait . . .

After hitting the wall a little while back, the Friday Random Ten+5 is back with a vengeance with Five Things That Have Been Annoying The Crap Out Of Me At Multiple Instances Over The Last Few Weeks. Enjoy.

This one has been going on for nearly the entirety of the presidential campaign season -- people saying "pundants" when they really mean "pundit." Even pundits themselves, supposedly intelligent people who are brought on TV to say trenchant things, are doing it. Note to everybody both on TV and off: There is no such thing as a "pundant," just as there is no such thing as a "nuke-you-ler" weapon or the word "irregardless." Stop mumbling.

Internet video that automatically starts when you open a page
When it comes to Internet video, I'm staunchly pro-choice: I want to choose whether I want to watch a certain video, rather than the site automatically starting it for me and shoving it in my face the minute I open the page. I can't tell you how many times, over the course of football season, I've opened up a game recap or something on to research something for the blog, and all of a sudden I start hearing voices and music that aren't coming from the TV and I'm like, "DAMMIT, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!?" And it turns out it's another one of those little ESPN highlight videos, starting right up without letting me get a word in edgewise. Seriously, guys, enough. I'm a savvy Internet user, I know how to push the "play" button. And don't even get me started on the porn sites that do the same thing.

Joe the Plumber
OK, we get it, you're a plumber. Well, you're not a licensed plumber, but we can't find anything else about you to hang your hat on, and you're built and live in Ohio and kind of have that tough-guy Vic Mackey look about you, so we'll turn you into our symbol of what "Joe Six-Pack" looks like and trot you out like a show dog all over the country without first bothering to check whether you have anything even remotely original or insightful to say. (Actually, that's pretty much the same level of thought that went into the selection of Sarah Palin as VP, so it's starting to make a little more sense.) And now it turns out Joe's just a big political pussy, throwing out accusations like how Obama will bring about "the death of Israel" and then punting when asked to explain exactly why he feels that way. I'm no more interested in what Joe the Not-Actually-Plumbing-Anything-At-The-Moment Plumber has to say than I am in anything Paris Hilton has to say, although in its own way, I guess that's a valuable lesson right there: that salt-of-the-earth blue-collar workers from Middle America can be every bit as vapid and worthless as airheaded blond Hollywood heiresses. I'm really glad we finally got that straightened out.

Unflushed toilets
I can't tell you how many times I've walked into the public restroom on my own floor in my own office building and found a big ol' nasty brown trout or the unflushed remnants of same in one of the commodes. Flushing a toilet is not a lengthy, involved process, people. If you can open a car door, click a mouse, or masturbate for five seconds, congratulations, you've mastered the dexterity necessary to operate a modern-day flush toilet. The people who annoy me the most are the ones who are afraid of touching any part of a public commode because "It's gross and I'll get my hands dirty" -- the only reason that would be a concern for you is if you weren't planning on washing your hands before you left the restroom anyway, in which case you're the dirty, disgusting restroom user, not anyone else. It's almost enough to make me wish people had to sign in to use a bathroom stall so that if someone walks in and sees a floater, they could just check the last name on the list and then put a reprimand in that guy's personnel file.

These shoes
A couple weeks ago my sister sent me a link to the atrocities pictured above, which combine the two dumbest recent trends in footwear -- Crocs and furry mukluk-style boots -- into one ass-ugly pair of shoes. So what would you call them? Mukluk Crocs? Or Croc mukluks? Either way, I can only hope that they're aimed at airhead pre-teens who are too dumb to know better, because if I see anyone over the age of majority wearing these, I might have to take 'em down. Just long enough to pull their shoes off and burn them, of course.

Hooray, I'm glad I got all that off my chest. And now the Ten:

1. Pet Shop Boys, "Flamboyant" (Scissor Sisters silhouettes & shadows mix)
2. David Holmes, "Radio 7"
3. Talk Talk, "Talk Talk"
4. Gorillaz, "19-2000"
5. The Chemical Brothers, "The Sunshine Underground"
6. Genesis, "Throwing It All Away"
7. Crystal Waters, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)"
8. Sting, "This Cowboy Song"
9. R.E.M., "Let Me In"
10. The Roots, "The Spark"

Put your own Random Tens and/or list of grievances in the comments, folks, and enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, October 30

A confession of treason in the first degree.

I've had this post in my head for what seems like eons now, long before MaconDawg posted his case against Florida's quarterback over at yesterday, even before this post over at EDSBS, which would've been the perfect opportunity to purge my soul about this -- but anyway, with the next installment of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party coming up just a few days from now, I've decided to get my ass in gear and get it all out there. A lot has been said about Tim Tebow ever since he signed with the Gators, a lot has been said by Georgia fans this week and will continue to be said up until the game on Saturday and certainly after, and not a lot of what they have to say will be complimentary, but you know what?

I think Tim Tebow is awesome. Check that: I think Tim Tebow is fucking awesome.

He's an incredible football player, of course. Has any player carried a team to nine wins as singlehandedly as Teebs did last year? Sure, the Gators' utter lack of a pass defense showed the limits of what even a player as awesome as Tebow could surmount all by his lonesome, but consider that the Gators overcame that deficiency on nine separate occasions by scoring an average of nearly fifty points in those games, and consider, too, that Tebow was directly responsible for more than half of those points. He provided more than seventy percent of an offense that finished '07 ranked 14th in the nation in total yardage. Seriously, it was him, Percy Harvin, and that's it.

But I also think Tebow is awesome in ways that have nothing to do with his performance on the field. He's just a genuinely good kid. The mission trips, the ministry to convicted prisoners? I mean, I do a fair amount of work with charities and community organizations here in Birmingham, but I've never done anything like that. And even the circumcisions in the Philippines that we Dawg fans like to laugh about -- and seriously, it is pretty fuckin' funny -- meant that Tebow had to take weeks out of his life and fly seven thousand miles to go cut some kids' foreskins off. Me, I feel like I've done a great service when I take someone halfway across town to pick up their car at the mechanic.

There's a part of me that thinks I might be highly annoyed by Tebow if I ever met him in person -- by all reports he's super-Christian, all but assuredly a Republican, and would probably chafe at the fact that my description of him in the second paragraph used the word "fucking" -- but he is one of a depressingly small number of prominent Christians in this country who walk the God-fearing walk in addition to talking the talk. He actually gets out there and does the stuff that Jesus instructs people to do in the Bible. And when he's not ministering to people in the Philippines or a state prison or wherever and the cameras aren't on him anymore, there's still no evidence that he's anything but a good, upstanding citizen. All those reports you hear about Gator players getting into trouble with the law for this reason or that reason? Tebow ain't never in 'em. I'll bet you he's in bed every weeknight, like clockwork, by 10 p.m.

And even though he could have his pick of any coed on Florida's campus -- and, even though they wouldn't admit it, Florida State's, Miami's, and UCF's, and more than one at a time -- I'll bet anybody right now twenty bucks that Tebow's a virgin. I'm not saying that to make fun of him; I think that's fantastic. If your personal belief system tells you that you should be saving yourself for marriage, and you resist a daly, if not hourly, dose of worldly temptation to stick to that, then friend, I will not say the first bad thing about you. (Partly because Tebow can't be more than about five months older than I was when I finally lost my virginity myself, but that's really neither here nor there.)

The last reason I think Tebow is awesome, though, might be the hardest to admit: He's awesome because he loves being a Gator. Now, I don't think loving being a Gator is admirable on its face -- mostly, it's quite the opposite -- but the genuine joy on his face when he's running out on the field is something I don't know that I'd ever want to take away from anybody. He's found something he's very good at and he gets to do it in front of ninety thousand people who love watching him; he is living his fucking dream and loving life, and it is so real and beautiful to him that I don't even care that I hate the team he's doing it for. Yeah, we all like to roll our eyes and grouse about what a gaywad he looks like when he's hopping up and down on the sideline or jumping around like a fricking circus act after he scores a touchdown, but admit it, Georgia fans: You wish every player on our team showed the same enthusiasm for being a Bulldog that Tebow does for being a Gator on nearly every single play. Not that all of our players don't, but still, Tebow is the model for showing school pride and loving the colors on his back more than life itself. If I could draw some of Tebow's blood, put it in a centrifuge, separate that enthusiasm out, put it under a microscope and find a way to genetically modify it into something Georgia-specific, I would mass-produce that shit and inject it into every student who walks on to UGA's campus.

Now is probably an improper time to be getting all this off my chest, I suppose, given that this model of a modern-day student-athlete is going to be hurling passes against us in just a few short days. I hope his team loses, of course. I hope they lose this year and next year, and I hope the world scratches its collective head wondering why a quarterback as astronomically talented as Tim Tebow never managed to beat the Dawgs, and I hope that criticism eats Urban Meyer up so much he breaks a toe kicking his file cabinet in frustration.

But I hope the criticism doesn't eat Tebow up the same way, 'cause he's a good kid and I don't want him to feel bad.

Confession over. The executioners may fire when ready.

Why so serious, Urban?: the Florida preview.

Hometown: Gainesville, Fla.

Last season: Had the nation's third-ranked scoring offense with 42.5 points per game, but a 99th-ranked pass defense sent them to a 5-3 SEC record, third behind Tennessee and Georgia in the East Division. Closed out the season by serving as Lloyd Carr's final victim, getting shredded by Michigan 41-35 in the Capital One Bowl; exited the season ranked 13th in the sportswriters' poll and 16th in the coaches'.

The season thus far: Other than an inexplicable 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss -- memo to Urban Meyer, the rest of the conference has come to expect the ol' Tebow-up-the-middle on fourth and short -- the Gators have been blazing, winning their other six games by a minimum of 23 points and currently sharing the SEC East lead with the Bulldogs at 4-1 in conference play. Presently ranked fifth by the sportswriters, seventh by the coaches, and eighth in the BCS standings.

Hate index, 1 being "30 Rock" (new season starts tonight!!1!!1), 10 being those Toyota "Saved By Zero" ads: Ten. I might've softened my stance on this issue due to a genuine admiration for Tim Tebow -- I'll fess up to that one in a subsequent post -- but then Urban Meyer had to go and get his culottes in a self-righteous wad (in print, no less) over last year's end-zone celebration by the Dawgs. Sorry, but that kind of pouting over hurt fee-fees has no place in college football, certainly not the SEC.

Associated hottie: I have been specifically instructed not to mention current UF student and Miss October 2008 Kelly Carrington (née Hemberger) in this space -- uh, whoops -- so instead I'll go with every red-blooded male's favorite sideline reporter: ESPN correspondent and ex-Florida Dazzler Erin Andrews (incidentally a girlfriend-approved #4 on my laminated list).

Celebrity preview: Tom Cruise pumps up the '08 Gators with his special brand of crazy here.

What excites me: Florida's defense has certainly improved by leaps and bounds over last year's — they're #13 nationally in yards allowed — but they're not impregnable. And off the teams they've faced so far this year, Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU are the only ones whose offenses I would rate as having a pulse to begin with. LSU didn't accomplish much against the Gators, but that was due at least in part to the Tigers getting socked in the mouth early and having to spend the entire second half going pass-wacky to make up multiple-touchdown deficits. Arkansas only scored 7 points against the Gators but moved the ball pretty effectively between the 20s, with wee tailback Michael Smith rolling up 133 yards on only 20 carries — and Ole Miss, of course, laid 31 points on the Gators in their own house and won. I don't think any of those teams carry quite the menagerie of offensive weapons that Georgia does, particularly in the receiving corps, where the Dawgs will be fielding A.J. Green, Mohamed Massaquoi, tight end Aron White (who debuted against LSU by catching a 48-yard pass from Stafford), and Knowshon Moreno and Brannan Southerland, both talented receiving threats out of the backfield.

On the other side of the ball, even after getting tenderized by Charles Scott in Baton Rouge last week, Georgia's run defense maintained a #6 ranking in Division I-A, allowing only 77 yards per game. Which is obviously beneficial considering that not only can Tim Tebow run, the Gators are fielding an honest-to-God backfield rushing threat for the first time in Urban Meyer's regime. And this is where we have to get into . . .

Do you wanna know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can't savor all the . . . little . . . emotions.

What worries me: I think that whole “heel injury” from which Percy Harvin was supposedly recovering all summer was just a cover for Urban Meyer taking DNA samples from various parts of Harvin's body and using them to create clones in his secret mad-scientist lab far beneath Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Now, in addition to Harvin (hereafter known as “Subject Zero”), Meyer has Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey (with some DNA evidently being saved for RB/KR Brandon James). All are relatively short in stature, all are well under 200 pounds, and all are a threat to not only score every time they touch the ball but to break the sound barrier in the process.

These gentlemen are the reason why the dropoff in Tim Tebow's stats this year is completely meaningless: Teebs isn't running and passing all over the place this season because he's finally got other guys to do it for him. Unlike last year, when the key to containing Florida's offense was simply tackle Tebow, tackle Harvin, lather, rinse, repeat, opposing defenses now have to account for pretty much every offensive skill player on the field on every play. Florida may be averaging “only” 410 total yards per game this year, a 47-yard dropoff from '07, but they're putting up the same number of points.

But I know the truth: there's no going back. You've changed things . . . forever.

And now we might as well get into that somewhat controversial business from last year, known as “The Celebration.” I don't care what Meyer or any of his players say, they've got the Celebration on their minds this week just as they've had it on their minds all year long, and while there are any number of ways psychologists could interpret the impact of that on the Gators' mindset this week, I think it can be argued that Georgia is about to face the most motivated team Florida has sent to Jacksonville in decades. I mean, think about it: For nearly 20 years the Gators had been able to look upon a win over Georgia with the same kind of certainty typically applied to death and taxes, and then all of a sudden some red-and-black-clad interlopers rush in and eat their lunch right in front of them. If there was any complacency on the part of the Gators before — and I suspect there was at least a little — last year's emergence of Evil Richt likely shocked it right out of them. How that will ultimately affect the outcome of this game, of course, is anyone's guess, but nobody on Georgia's side of the field should have any doubt that they're in for an all-out war.

Player who needs to step up: FS Reshad Jones. After a string of games in which Jones made some nice defensive plays, he displayed a number of symptoms of Greg Blue Syndrome last week against LSU — to wit, rocketing toward an opposing ball carrier at pulverizing speed while not actually wrapping said ball carrier enough to make the tackle. Think that's going to work against Subject Zero? Yeah, me neither, and really, our entire defense could stand to work on those tackling fundamentals a little. But Jones is going to carry one of the biggest burdens of accounting for all of the Gators' open-field speed demons at once, and he's got to not only make good decisions but play to the whistle and take his target all the way to the ground for Georgia to be able to keep this one manageable.

What I think will happen: I've alluded to the possibility, of course, that last year's in-your-face end-zone celebration might so enrage the Gators that they take it out on the Dawgs in Jacksonville and play one of the best games of their lives. But there's a second possibility, and that is that Urban Meyer and his team have been so fixated on the Celebration that it's become a distraction. I mean, look, Urban Meyer mentioned the Celebration in his book; Tebow says there's a still photo of the end-zone party posted in the Gators' locker room. This is something that's been weighing on their minds for a long time, and that may or may not be a good thing. Not that I've ever played football in any sort of competitive context, but I'd imagine that channeling one's visceral emotions into effective performance on the field has to be one of the hardest things about being a player, and if the Gators go into Alltel Stadium fixated more on getting back at the Dawgs for an end-zone party than on scoring points and winning the game, then that's going to make for a very interesting afternoon — and perhaps a very pleasant one for Georgia fans.

I'm not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say that the Celebration was nothing personal, you know that I'm telling the truth.

Georgia, on the other hand, comes into this game with the very rare (for us, at least) sensation of actually having the upper hand. But that, too, could be a double-edged sword. After more than a decade of seeing firsthand how Georgia does when they come into this game uptight and desperate — here's a hint: We haven't done well — I'd much rather see them relaxed and having fun. But there's such a thing as being too relaxed (see Georgia-Tennessee, 2007), and if our players come into this game thinking that the Celebration singlehandedly ended 17 years of the Gator Curse and that equilibrium in the series can just be magically restored without them having to give 100 percent on the field, then we deserve to lose.

Obviously, I think Richt is too good a coach to allow that to happen, and at the risk of going too intangible-happy and psychoanalytical here, I think a complete reversal of the usual Florida-relaxed, Georgia-uptight situation is a net plus for us. At least, I hope the Gators are a little uptight coming into this one, because they certainly don't lack for talent or coaching anywhere, and the tangibles of this game are causing me a bigger bleeding ulcer than any Georgia game I've geared up for in quite a while. The advantages we had over Florida last year — a sievelike UF defense, a hobbled QB, an entirely Tebow-centric offense — are gone, and in their place are perhaps the three fastest human beings in the SEC right now. I'm thanking my lucky stars I'm not Willie Martinez, because I don't know how the hell you defend against all three of those guys at once.

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.

Of course, a co-worker of mine pointed out the other day that with all the breathless attention paid to playmakers like Harvin, Moreno, and Demps over the past week, the football gods could decide to throw a wrench into the proceedings and turn this game into a 13-7 slugfest. (Being an Auburn fan, he's well-acquainted with those sorts of things this year.) On the one hand, there's a part of me that thinks that kind of game might actually be better for Georgia, since such a low score would mean that we'd become the first team to contain the Percy Harvin Clone Army all season long. The rational part of me, though, knows that Georgia has to score a lot of points in this game to win, and I don't think that'll be any different this year.

In the end, my thoughts on this game mirror my thoughts from LSU week in the sense that my head and heart are once again at odds. My heart says that I shouldn't be so eager to disregard intangibles here, that a Florida team still fuming over the Celebration is a Florida team set up to play tight and make dumb mistakes, that Georgia's offense is loose, clicking on all cylinders at the moment, and poised to unleash the barrage of yards and points we've needed to win this game in the past. My head, on the other hand, couldn't care less about the Celebration and knows that hope and unicorns alone will stop neither Tebow nor the three-headed rushing/receiving monster he's been given as sidekick this year. My head knows that if we tackle against Florida like we did against LSU, it's going to be the other team ending up with 50 points on their side of the scoreboard.

Blutarsky's analysis, as usual, is spot-on: We need to expect some very early aggressive playcalling from Urban Meyer as his “response” to the Celebration (since he isn't imaginative to come up with anything like that on his own), and one of the best ways we can respond to it is by slowing the tempo of the game with some long, grind-it-out drives. As much as Stafford has improved as a passer this season, the Dawgs have been at their best when they've ridden Knowshon Moreno and Caleb King into the end zone on those 10- or 12-play drives that crunch six or seven minutes off the clock; this weekend, a drive like that has the added bonus of keeping the quick-strike offense off the field for an extended period of time. If we can limit their exposure and wear down a defense that hasn't been tested all that much this year, we've got a fighting chance. Mike Bobo, who laid out such a masterful strategy last week in Baton Rouge, surely knows this and is planning accordingly.

This town deserves a better class of criminal . . . and I'm gonna give it to them.

Even so, though — maybe it's just the kind of inferiority complex that can only be acquired by witnessing more than a decade of near-constant futility against a single opponent, but it's hard for me to see Georgia as anything but a decided underdog here, and I'm not talking about anything as simple as a point spread. There are still just enough cracks in our defense to really worry me against an offense like the one we're going to see on Saturday; in previous games this season, we've had great success taking away the run, rendering the opposing offense one-dimensional, and crushing them down the stretch, but the idea of doing that to an offense as complex and multidimensional as Florida's seems a little naïve to me. Sure, we can neutralize Tebow as a rushing threat like we did last year, but we're going to have to also do that to Demps and Rainey for it to make a difference. And even if we somehow manage that, do we end up devoting so many defenders to the run that we leave Subject Zero or Louis Murphy to run wild in the open field? If that happens, are we finally going to figure out how to cover guys one-on-one via something other than a pass-interference penalty?

Wild visions of a 13-7 final score notwithstanding, I see another shootout here — and again, maybe it's just the inferiority complex talking, but nearly every vision I have of this game involves Florida breaking the late play to either pull ahead or ice an existing lead. Obviously, I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but I think whatever road we were traveling to the national title dead-ends in Jacksonville.

Oh, well. I believe whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you . . . stranger.

This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object . . . I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

If you're trash-talking: “Scoreboard, bitch” is probably a good starter, and if the Gator fan in question comes back with the obligatory rejoinder about Florida still having won 15 of the last 18, you should probably remind them that Georgia still leads the series 47-37-2 — meaning that even after nearly two decades of Gator domination in this rivalry, they're still 10 games behind us all-time.

And while I'm thinking about it, print this picture out and keep it in your wallet, just in case you need to whip it out sometime this weekend:

Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: Because Urban Meyer is a whiny, melodramatic douche who refers to himself in the third person. 'Nuff said.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins. Period. And you know I'm good for it.

Tuesday, October 28

Olive Garden Confidential: Second in a series.

The second in our series of grittier, rewritten Olive Garden ads rolls on with a haunting new installment, "Parting." (Previously: "Disclosure.")

WAITRESS: Hi! Can I help you?

MOTHER: Oh, hi, yes, I'm looking for my date.


MOTHER: He's very handsome, and his shoes are probably untied.

YOUNG BOY (calling out): Mom!

WAITRESS: (laughs) That's so sweet!

MOTHER: Well, tonight's the night his father and I are telling him we're getting a divorce, so we figured we might as well take him someplace nice, soften the blow a bit . . .

WAITRESS: Oh. (pause) Wow. I'm . . . I'm gonna go get you guys some more breadsticks.

ANNOUNCER: Introducing Olive Garden's new stuffed rigatonis! Filled with five Italian cheeses like mozzarella and parmesan. Try our rigatoni with grilled chicken in a roasted-garlic alfredo, or rigatoni with sausage and tomato alfredo. Starting at $9.95, plus endless breadsticks and salad!

FATHER (to WAITRESS, as YOUNG BOY weeps openly): Could we, ahh, maybe get a few scoops of chocolate gelato over here? And a scotch, double?

ANNOUNCER: Olive Garden -- when you're here, you're family!

Poll dancing, week 9: Last ballot before Armageddon.

OK, I think I've fully recovered from my post-LSU stupor and can reason coherently again. Well, as much as I could before, at any rate. So here's one more BlogPoll ballot before the Cocktail Party this weekend, after which I will either be running bare-assed down Highland Avenue once again or sighing to myself and pinning my personal happiness on an Obama landslide the following Tuesday.

Games watched: West Virginia-Auburn, Florida-Kentucky, Georgia-LSU, the first half of Alabama-Tennessee before I passed out.

Waiting room: Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia Tech.

Dropped out: Kansas (15), Pittsburgh (17), South Florida (18), Georgia Tech (20), Northwestern (21), Cincinnati (22), Boston College (24), Arizona (25).

· A little bit of action in the top 10, but not in the top three -- in my first draft I realized I'd moved Florida up two spots for destroying a bad Kentucky team while moving Penn State down for beating Ohio State in Columbus. So that got changed in a hurry. That said, the Gators are easily the best one-loss team in the country at this point, and yes, I'm including Georgia.

· Here's something I wasn't in any hurry to change: I dropped Oklahoma four slots for beating Kansas State, but dropped Oklahoma State only one slot for losing to Texas. My rationale is thus: Oklahoma State played Texas closer than anyone else has this season, and has yet to display any truly glaring weaknesses; the Sooners, on the other hand, got shelled by K-State's passing game and are giving up an average of 32 points per game in Big 12 play. Their résumé is marginally stronger than OSU's, but other than that, I'm cagey about calling them an elite team at this point; if that's the best they can do on D, they've got at least one more conference loss coming.

· Also not elite: Ohio State, who gave Penn State a tussle but now have two losses and are basically out of the national-title hunt, and LSU, whose defense could give Oklahoma's a run for its money in the race for the What The Hell Happened To Us Award.

· In the addenda to my last ballot, I described everything from 19 on down as "pretty much a peanut gallery of the kinds of teams whose time in the top 25 you'll probably be able to measure with a stopwatch." And sure enough, everyone from the 15th spot on down, with the exception of Missouri and Tulsa, incurred losses that varied from the respectable (Arizona falling by only a touchdown against USC) to the just plain fricking humiliating (Kansas getting 63 points shoveled onto them at home by Texas Tech). In their place, a whole new passel of teams you probably won't be able to admire here for more than a week -- Oregon, Oregon State, newly back-from-the-dead West Virginia, massively improved Minnesota, Florida State, Connecticut, Michigan State, and didn't-do-anything-last-week-but-what-the-hey South Carolina. As with last week, if you think I should bail on any of these in favor of some sleeper pick I've forgotten, make me an offer. At this point, if you can make a case for putting Florida International in here, I'll listen.

· I really, really want to put Virginia in the top 25, but everyone who does anything good or takes a division lead in the ACC this year only goes out and wets their pants in their very next game. If the Hoos can take care of bidness at home against Miami this weekend, they'll get ranked; otherwise, it looks like 6-1 Florida State is this conference's standard-bearer for the time being. Funny, that doesn't look nearly embarrassing on the page as it sounded in my head.

Now the SEC Power Poll ballot:

1. Alabama -- Nice to see that the Tide rediscovered the art of closing out a game in the second half. Or maybe they just discovered a terrible offense to go up against.

2. Florida -- It's not fair. They found the three fastest human beings on the entire planet and they put them all on the same offense and IT'S NOT FAIR!!1!!!1!1!! [/five-year-old girl]

3. Georgia -- Me? No, not doing much of anything, just reveling in the Dawgs having hung half-a-hundred on LSU in their own stadium. Huh? We allowed nearly 500 yards of total offense? Nope, don't know anything about that, dum-tee-da-da, dum-tee-doo . . .

4. LSU -- Let's just say there's a bi-i-i-ig dropoff from #3 to #4 on this list. I can't in good conscience put LSU below any of the next few teams, but all that means is that, yes, the SEC has fallen off a bit this year. Sorry, but you give up half-a-hundred on two separate occasions, you ain't an elite team no mo'.

5. South Carolina -- Didn't play this past weekend. Don't worry, I'm sure Stephen Garcia managed to do something douchey in his spare time.

6. Ole Miss -- I kind of get the feeling Houston Nutt was hoping to beat Arkansas by more than two points. Actually, I kind of get the feeling the rest of the country was hoping for the same thing, too.

7. Vanderbilt -- Vanderbilt, meet 5-7. 5-7, Vandy. Oh, wait, you've already met.

8. Kentucky -- Managed to hold Tebow and the Gators below 70. Great success!

9. Arkansas -- All things considered, not an altogether terrible performance against the Rebels; even Casey Dick looked decent. Petrino might actually have the Hogs whipped into shape by next year.

10. Auburn -- Good news, Rest of the Conference! Down by two touchdowns to Auburn in the first half? No worries -- just wait long enough and they'll implode on their own.

11. Tennessee -- Tennessee, meet 5-7. 5-7, Tenne -- oh, wait, I already used that joke.

12. Mississippi State -- Maybe the Croomdawgs pull an upset against Kentucky, Arkansas, or Ole Miss down the stretch, but even then I think they're gonna have to be satisfied with four wins.

Monday, October 27

I may be wrong, I may be right, but I don't give up any night . . .

Darryl Gamble, LSU's leading receiver on Saturday.

If you'd told me before the game this past Saturday that somebody was going to score more than 50 points in Baton Rouge, I would've done two things: First, I would've meekly asked, "Did we at least manage to get any on the board before halftime this time," and then I would've had an acid flashback to the Alabama game right before I got online to track down expert advice on exactly how many Xanax I'd need to wash down with a bottle of Stoli to make it all go away.

Instead, with the help of Darryl Gamble pulling a Tra Battle and assuming the role of LSU's leading receiver (two pick-sixes for a total of 93 yards), we dropped half-a-hundred on the Tigers in their own stadium. I was kind of hoping we were the first team to ever accomplish that, and we weren't -- naturally, Steve Spurrier got there first back in '93, albeit against one of LSU's wretched Curley Hallman squads -- but still, I'll take it. After going three seasons without breaking the half-century mark on anyone, we've now done it twice in as many months; say what you want about this team, but don't tell us we can't light up the scoreboard, or that we can't get it up for a big game.

And it wasn't a perfect game, to be sure, but given the circumstances it was as close as we were going to get: Going up against nearly 1,200 pounds of defensive-line beef, our patchwork O-line only let Matt Stafford get sacked once and paved the way for a 163-yard day for Knowshon Moreno. Our much-maligned pass defense never quite let Jarrett Lee get into a groove until it was much too late, aided, of course, by Gamble grabbing two TDs of his own. The whole team operated with the kind of ruthless efficiency that we haven't seen since -- well, I was almost going to say something like "since Arizona State," but the truth is that even that dominating performance wasn't on a par with this one. Not only was this our best performance of the season by a long shot, we pulled it off in one of the most hostile environments in all of college football.

"Not only that, but I ain't puttin' none of y'all in my Fave Five. Bitches."

And while Knowshon Moreno is the one who's been getting the majority of the "player of the game" awards -- not without reason, as his highlight-reel-making 68-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter started the steady drumbeat of nails being pounded into LSU's coffin -- but I've been gratified to see some love being sent Stafford's way, and Mike Bobo's, too. Bobo called one of the most solid games of his young career, and Stafford did a masterful job of adapting it to the conditions on the field; he audibled with the poise and confidence of, dare I say it, Peyton Manning under center (though without the extraneous arm-flapping for misdirection's sake). I really hope I don't have to read another one of those contrarian "Matt Stafford really isn't that good" hit jobs for the rest of the season, because he's delivered the best performance of any QB in the SEC this year and it isn't even close: 1,946 yards in eight games, 12 TDs to five picks, and perhaps most important to silencing the doubters, a completion percentage over that critical 60-percent mark. My only worry is that his numbers will end up so far out ahead of the rest of what's a fairly mediocre overall QB class this year that he rolls the dice on an early NFL departure, but for right now, I'm savoring this.

Saturday's performance was the equivalent of lifting two kegs at Talladega.

Of course, some of the numbers Saturday weren't nearly as positive -- 38 points allowed, for example, or 497 yards given up, including 309 to a pair of less-than-seasoned QBs, and another 144 to the man-beast otherwise known as Charles Scott. I nearly blew a gasket at the way Scott's sheer momentum always seemed to carry him to a five- or six-yard gain even when we'd hit him hard at the line, but I did a cursory glance at the rosters of our next few opponents and only a couple of them have running backs who are anywhere close to 5'11", 221. As for LSU's disturbingly plump final numbers on offense, Blutarsky offers a ladder with which to come down off that ledge by pointing out that a good 44 percent of LSU's yards came in the fourth quarter, with the Tigers passing like crazy in a futile effort to erase a deficit that ping-ponged between two and three touchdowns. I won't even be that mad about it if, as Blutarsky proposes, the defense let their guard down because they were mentally hunkering down for the flight to Jacksonville; I mean, if you have to look ahead to the next opponent, wait to do it until after you've rung up a three-TD lead on your current one, not that I'd blame them for looking ahead to the biggest game of the year anyway.

Soooo . . . about that Cocktail Party this weekend: Yes, I'm well aware that they dropped 50 on LSU too, and given the Gators' simmering resentment over The Celebration last year -- no, I don't care what y'all say, you're still fuming over that one, and the more you deny it the more I know it's true -- it's possible they may be the toughest opponent we face all year, yes, even tougher than Alabama. It's possible that the Gators will be so fired up over that slight that they beat us 52-7, or maybe it's possible that they'll be so overcome with rage that they start doing stupid things and open the door for us to punk 'em again, but I'm not going to waste too much time wondering how many Georgia players can dance on the head of a pin or in the heads of the Gators. For right now, I'm simply going to concur with the good senator that we probably ought to bone up on some tackling drills between now and Saturday -- what Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, and the terrifying Jeff Demps lack in size relative to Scott, they more than make up for in speed -- but even factoring in Saturday's somewhat inflated stats, we'll still be taking the nation's sixth-ranked run defense and 21st-ranked overall defense down to Jacksonville. And praise Jesus, none of our guys got hurt in Baton Rouge, which is as worthy of a thank-you prayer to your higher power of choice as anything else that happened Saturday.

Nobody had to leave the stadium on crutches? Why, that is exciting!

But I'm not gonna stress about the Cocktail Party just yet -- I'll worry about that later. For today, I'm going to be proud of a team that looks as strong as it has all year long. Before the season started, I was eyeing the four-week road trip we've just started -- Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, Lexington, and Auburn -- with dread and fearing that by the end of the season we'd be looking back and thanking our lucky stars that we even managed to split those four games. After starting that sequence off with a resounding win, however, it's looking like three out of the four should be our baseline, with 4-0 possible if we can rise to the occasion in Jax and play with the courage and intensity that a de facto SEC East championship game merits. Most important game in the history of ever? That might be a little much, but I certainly won't mind if we act like it is between now and 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The other reason, though, that I'm gonna need at least a little while to catch up is this: Against LSU, the Dawgs did real well when I had a drink in my hand but started letting the Tigers back into the game when I was booze-less, so I made a halftime adjustment of my own and decided I would maintain a constant alcohol drip until the clock hit four zeroes. Paid for it later, of course, but I don't mind taking one for the team, and I don't regret a single thing I did Saturday.

No, not even that.

Other stuff I recall thinking before I slipped irrevocably into my booze-induced fog:

This doesn't look like it ended in a fun landing.

· Everyone on the Alabama team can have coffee again, as they finally closed out a game and kept their boot on Tennessee's neck for the entirety of their game Saturday. To look at it another way, Tennessee ended up with only 173 total yards on the day; Georgia had 86 in the first half against Bama -- you know, the one where we got down 31-0 -- so just put two of those halves together and you've basically got the Vols' performance Saturday night. The good news for the Volunteers is that they've got their usual snoozer of a late-season schedule coming up -- South Carolina, Wyoming, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky; the bad news is they can only lose one of those to have any hope of getting back into a bowl game.

· I've just about finalized my ballot for this week's BlogPoll, and despite their dominating performance at Kansas State, I think I'm gonna have to drop Oklahoma a couple notches this time around. The score of that game was 55-28 at halftime, and while they made enough adjustments in the second half to clamp down and win 58-35, that's still way too many points to be allowing to a team like K-State. Yes, I know Georgia coughed up a bunch of points in Baton Rouge, but let the record show we didn't let someone named Josh Freeman pass for 478 yards on us. I think that's kind of important.

· Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia: Which one of these teams is not leading their division at the moment? I'll give you a hint: It's not this one.

Time to fire up the ol' couch again . . .

· About that West Virginia-Auburn game Thursday night: There's no more telling factoid about Auburn's season this year than the fact that the Tigers have led in every single game they've played this year -- six of them by double digits -- yet are only 4-4 and in no way assured of making a bowl game. To me, that's a sign of a team that doesn't think it can win, and while I'm not going to accuse them of having given up on the season just yet, there were certainly members of the team who seemed to have mentally packed it in on the sidelines in Morgantown. I'm really interested to see how much blame Tommy Tuberville ends up taking at the end of the season for this, but I'm far more interested to see what direction he decides to go in as far as a new offensive coordinator, and what kind of offensive scheme he decides to run. Because it doesn't seem as though any of the Tigers' current coaches have a clue.

· UAB Blazers watch: They had a bye this past weekend. This Saturday, they face 2-6 Southern Miss, who is to UAB kind of what Florida was to Georgia throughout the 1990s. I don't know, though; maybe they have a chance.

· This week's Wofford Terriers Watch can be summed up with one photo:

The mighty Terriers devoured conference-leading Elon 55-20 on the road, and there are now only two teams left in the Southern Conference still undefeated in league play -- Wofford and Appalachian State, whom the Terriers face this weekend in Boone. A win over the Mountaineers would all but clinch the conference title for WU, as they would then have to lose two of their three remaining games -- against 3-5 Citadel, at 4-3 Samford, and against 6-3 Furman -- to get knocked out of first place.

· Washington Redskins watch: The 'Skins took care of Detroit 25-17 on Sunday, but the most amazing stat from that game is 0 -- as in the number of interceptions Jason Campbell threw. As in the number of interceptions he's thrown all season. Now that I've mentioned that, of course, he'll go out and earn a golden sombrero against Pittsburgh on Monday night. But again, I'm savoring this while it lasts, baby.

Sunday, October 26

Something perhaps a wee bit more uplifting than bare-assed-flag-running.

I'll have my full rundown on the LSU game sometime Monday, but in the meantime, check out the segment ESPN did for "Gameday" on the kids Mark and Katharyn Richt adopted from the Ukraine (hat tip to Paul Westerdawg):

Seriously, people, I watched this and nearly started tearing up. A coach who welcomes not one but two abandoned foreign children into his family and lays 50 points on LSU in their own house? Westerdawg is right on the money -- Bulldog Nation is truly, uniquely blessed to have these wonderful folks representing us both on the field and off.

Friday, October 24

Olive Garden Confidential: First in a series.

Sorry the Friday Random Ten+5 hasn't made an appearance in the last couple of weeks -- the well kind of ran dry as far as +5 ideas and the whole thing was on the verge of getting stale. It'll be back next week, I promise, but for right now I want to talk about something else: Olive Garden commercials.

The subject of Olive Garden ads has popped up repeatedly in recent conversations I've had with friends, for some reason, and the conversations invariably revolve around one common belief: that these ads are terrible. They always start off with a group of unreasonably chipper people sitting around a table getting way more involved with, and excited by, the menu than any normal person should be, and then the "kicker" that segues into the voice-over is some lame joke so mild and/or unfunny it hardly qualifies as a joke at all. They're like the "Small Wonder" of national TV spots, and even though I've never eaten at an Olive Garden before in my life, I'm pretty sure that the types of conversations that take place in these ads would never actually happen in real life, ever.

To that end, I've taken a number of recent Olive Garden ads I'm sure you've seen and rewritten them to be a little less perfect, a little less cutesy, and a little more reflective of the deep-seated conflicts and simmering angst that pervade our 21st-century society. For the first of these, I've chosen the ad that, in its original form, I think has aroused the most contempt of late; I call it "Disclosure."

STEVE: OK, so I've done the math on this never-ending pasta bowl -- 42 different sauce and pasta combinations!

JEFF: Well, you do the math, I'm doing the alfredo. (uproarious laughter)

ALEX: And while you're doing the alfredo, I'll do your fiancee! Ha ha! Yeah! . . .

(ALEX puts hand up expecting a high-five; no one responds. An excruciating silence descends.)

STEVE: Not cool, dude. Just . . . not . . . cool.

MICHELLE: That was way over the line, Alex.

ALEX: What? What'd I do?

JENNIFER: Why do you always have to make people feel uncomfortable?

ANNOUNCER (V/O): Olive Garden's never-ending pasta bowl, with new asiago-garlic alfredo! Pick any sauce and pasta combination, then another, just $8.95. At Olive Garden!

STEVE (whispering): Seriously, dude, did you not know Jeff and Becca were in counseling? He caught her having sex with one of his co-workers at their office Christmas party . . . ?

ALEX: Oh my God, oh my God, I am so sorry . . .

ANNOUNCER (V/O): Olive Garden -- when you're here, you're family!

Thursday, October 23

I've got a brand-new pair of quarterbacks, you've got a brand-new D: the LSU preview.

Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.

Last season: Won their bowl game and got a crystal trophy or something for it. It might've been for the national championship or something, but really, it was so long ago, who remembers those kinds of things?

The season thus far: Everything was going grrrr-reat for the Tigers, who ran up a 4-0 record in the month of September, right up until they wandered into Gainesville and got 51 points dropped on them by Florida. Earned a little bit of respect back last week by coming from behind to take down South Carolina on the road, and are now 5-1, 3-1 in conference, and ranked 11th in both polls.

Hate index, 1 being people who say "nuclear," 10 being people who say "nuke-you-ler": Five and a half. Everyone likes to criticize LSU fans for being total whack jobs, but since when was total whackjobbery a punishable offense in the SEC, people? Also had a really cool boss who was a big LSU fan when I was temping in Synovus Financial's HR department one summer. (Fountain City, son, WHAT.)

Associated hottie: Hurdler Lolo Jones came up empty at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but don't feel too bad for how her life has turned out -- she won a gold medal at the 2008 World Indoor Championships and, while a student at LSU, won three NCAA titles and 11 All-American honors. Plus she looks good even when she's sweaty after a hard run, which very few of us can claim.

Celebrity preview: Britney Spears gushes over the defending national champions here.

What excites me: The LSU defense that has been so stifling almost ever since Nick Saban rolled into town appears to have taken a step back in 2008. After holding their first two patsy opponents to a total of less than 400 yards, some chinks started appearing in the armor -- 320 yards given up to a dire Auburn offense, more than 20 yards above their season average; 24 points given up to Mississippi State, the most MSU has dropped on a D-IA opponent all year. Then the wheels came off in the 51-21 drubbing by Florida, and even South Carolina's Stephen Garcia was moving the ball pretty well on the Tigers (207 total yards in the first half) before LSU figured out the Gamecocks couldn't run and clamped down on them the rest of the way.

Pass defense appears to be LSU's biggest problem at the moment -- they're allowing an average of 200 yards even over their past three games, which is decent, but their opponents completed passes at a rate of better than 60 percent during that span (45-of-73), and LSU only had one interception to show for it. (Memo to SEC defenses: If you go an entire 60 minutes and don't pick off a Mississippi State quarterback even once, you have underachieved.) Even Auburn's Chris Todd finished with 250 yards against the Bayou Bengals, though he did throw two picks in the process. What this tells me is that the short passing game can indeed work against LSU -- and maybe even a few long passes, too, if you can give them a running game to respect like Florida did.

The good news is, LSU can be run on; the bad news is, note who's doing the running.

On the other side of the ball, the QB situation hasn't been quite the disaster many feared when Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch were forced to take over for the disgraced Ryan Perrilloux, but neither of them is getting mentioned for the Heisman Trophy, either. Lee has seen the greater action of the two, and has a 131.8 QB rating through six games, but in four outings against SEC opponents he's thrown six TDs and five picks; his best passing day came against Mississippi State. Hatch, meanwhile, seems to be to this year's team what Tim Tebow was to the '06 Gators — mainly sent onto the field in specific situations where a running QB is required — and hasn't thrown more than 17 passes in a game (and that game was against North Texas). Between the two of them, LSU's passing offense is holding at a so-so 51st in the nation, and while neither has really lost a game for the Tigers yet, neither is really the type who's going to win one, either.

What worries me: Whatever slack has been left by the passing game, however, has been taken up by the running game, which ranks 36th in the country. That attack is led by Charles Scott, a 5'11”, 221-pound bruiser who's amassed 631 yards this season at a rate of 6.4 per carry; when he got bottled up last week against South Carolina, the Tigers sent out Keiland Williams, who put up a respectable 72 yards on 15 carries against an extremely stiff defense. The LSU ground game as a whole is averaging an even five yards per carry.

For our purposes, Charles Scott is henceforth Public Enemy #1 (then again, everybody in the SEC looks good against Ohio State).

That consistent success has been greatly helped by a positively massive offensive line, particularly on the left side, where Scott and Williams are getting blocking from 325-pound tackle Ciron Black and guard Herman Johnson, who, at 6'7”, 375, can be described as “Terrence Cody big.” Even with our front seven about as stable, personnel-wise, as it's been since the beginning of the season, we're going to have a devil of a time getting past those guys to the LSU running backs — much less their QBs, as we're still not pressuring opposing passers the way we'd like to be.

LSU's defensive front carries some serious beef, too, and they've been clamping down on opposing running games to the tune of less than 100 yards a game and only 3.1 yards per carry. Not only have the Tigers allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season long — Florida's Jeffrey Demps — but they've only allowed two teams to go over 100 yards total (Florida and, oddly enough, Mississippi State, who had 110). So, uh, good luck with that one, Knowshon. I continue to be amazed by just how well our offensive line has held their heads above water despite an incredible level of adversity this season, but this is still the biggest challenge they've faced since Alabama, maybe the biggest all year.

Finally, there's the venue, and with all due respect to South Carolina, Tiger Stadium is going to be the loudest and wildest place we've played all year. Thankfully, this one's going to be an afternoon kickoff as opposed to a night game, so LSU's fans will only have until 2:30 to get their drink on (well, except for the legions of people who bring their flasks into the stadium). Still, day game vs. night game at LSU is sort of like comparing a medium-security prison with a Supermax facility, and Mark Richt's knack for winning games in opponents' stadiums is going to get the biggest test it's faced in quite a while. The last time we went to Baton Rouge, of course, we lost 17-10 in one of the more epic defensive struggles I've ever seen.

Player who needs to step up: RT Justin Anderson. Anderson hasn't gotten much publicity this year -- not because he's not a good player, but mainly because he's one of our few offensive linemen who hasn't been grievously injured or shuffled all over the place in the last six months. His profile might get raised a tad this week, though, as he'll be one of the primary guys charged with keeping DE Ricky Jean-Francois's mitts off of Moreno and Stafford. Jean-Francois is dangerous enough as it is, and probably itching to hit somebody after missing the last two games due to a groin injury; I'd imagine he's also hopping mad after being called out for some unwisely phrased comments on Tim Tebow and then having to sit and watch as his team caught a 30-point beatdown from the Gators. Go with God, Justin.

What I think will happen: This has turned into one of those classic head-versus-heart battles for me, because my head says we could be in real trouble here. LSU presents a lot of the same strengths that Alabama wielded so punitively against us a few weeks ago -- big, strong offensive line; a Himalaya-sized defensive front; depth and variety in the offensive backfield. And while neither of the Tigers' new QBs are threats to make the All-SEC roster just yet, I was saying the same thing about John Parker Wilson right up until his O-line built a Berlin Wall around him and allowed him to play-action us into an early grave. Suffice to say my honest thoughts on how well we match up with the Tigers have not been positive; best case is we manage to hold our heads above water, worst-case is we get ground into roadkill before the bands even come out for halftime.

Not this. Please.

Even so, I can't quite see us getting gangbanged to the tune of a 31-0 halftime deficit again, and that's mainly due to a very interesting statistic/factoid that my heart keeps whipping out every time my head starts predicting unremitting doom and gloom: Georgia is 6-1 all-time in regular-season matchups against defending national champions. Not only that, but we've been overcoming some big obstacles to win those games. In 1997, Georgia went into Jacksonville as 20-point underdogs against the defending-champion Gators and instead came out 20-point victors; a decade later, Georgia had sustained a shellacking by Tennessee and had to come from behind to win a nailbiter over Vandy, yet went right out and stunned the Gators despite being a touchdown 'dog in Jacksonville. And while we were a home favorite against LSU in 2004, it was only by three points, and instead we ran up a 24-0 lead on the defending national champs, rolling all the way to a 45-16 beatdown.

So as poorly as you or I might think the Dawgs match up here, there is certainly precedent for the Dawgs to rise above all that. If we're going to accomplish that, though, it's got to start on the lines, and here's where we have what might be our biggest ace in the hole: offensive line coach Stacy Searels. Searels has already worked more than his share of miracles at Georgia, as he's helped the Dawgs go 17-3 in his tenure despite a combination of injury, youth, lack of depth, and other assorted misfortune so unremitting that Russian novelists would reject it as being too depressing. But the kicker here is that we poached him from LSU, which means he has as intimate a knowledge of both the Tigers' O-line (since he used to coach them) and their D-line (since he used to have to coach against them) as it's possible for someone to have. If there's a way to keep the Tiger defensive front at bay, or a way to solve their monster O-line and get some pressure for what feels like the first time in forever, Searels will know it.

This, please.

On the defensive side of the ball, our D isn't quite brand-new, as the title of this post implies, but it is fresher and healthier than it's been in some time -- we'll have Dannell Ellerbe back for the first time since the Alabama game, and Rod Battle, who only saw limited action against Vanderbilt in his first game back from injury, should be healthier as well. It's impossible for me to understate how important these guys are to our game plan this weekend -- again, this may just be my head searching for a worst-case scenario, as it always tends to do, but we've got to find some way to pressure the QB and keep the LSU offense out of balance. Jarrett Lee may not be a household name just yet, but he's good enough to stab us in the gut with a few well-timed medium-to-deep balls if our front seven can't get near him at all on Saturday.

I'm a little more confident in our ability to make big plays on offense, because Georgia will bring the only truly balanced and talented offensive attack LSU has seen this season other than Florida's -- and we all know just how brutal that Gator attack was against the Tigers. I imagine we'll start off with a slightly conservative mix of running and short-to-medium passing, but the latter will require making much better use of tight end Bruce Figgins than we've done over the past few weeks. Senator Blutarsky says that the continuing injuries on the offensive line have caused the coaches to keep Figgins in a blocking role rather than actually throwing to him, but in the course of a discussion that expounds upon that same topic, Kyle King points out that a TE drag route worked quite well for South Carolina in what was a pretty successful first half against LSU. Striking a balance between these two needs is going to be incredibly tricky -- maybe we move Kiante Tripp around again to give us some depth? who knows -- but again, how well you think we're able to do in that area just depends on how much faith you have in Searels at this point.

Obviously, the ongoing O-line issues haven't hampered our ability to move the ball between the 20s; as Kyle explains, it's been in the red zone where our lack of a push has really hurt us, sometimes manifesting itself in the form of settling for field goals, other times turning into INTs (primarily against the Vols) because we have to throw more down there. That, I think, is the biggest killer for us, because while subsisting on field goals worked against a lousy opponent like Tennessee, I don't see it working against a much more talented team like LSU (and in a maniacally hostile environment to boot). These kinds of issues don't get solved in the span of a couple weeks, and they certainly don't get solved in a place like Death Valley.

What? I did a Google image search for "LSU fans" and this was the first thing that came up. Go on, try it.

So as much as I've gone back and forth on this, with both my head and my heart winning the tug-of-war at various points, I think my heads wins out here, and for the first time all season I'm gonna have to predict a Georgia defeat. I think it'll be a back-and-forth affair for most of the game, with both offenses moving the ball fairly consistently between the 20s, but toward the end LSU is going to be one score better -- maybe something off a turnover, maybe something off special teams, as they're seventh in the nation in punt returns -- and Georgia's last-gasp drive falls just a few yards short of where it'd need to be to make up the difference. LSU wins by three or four points.

There is a not-insignificant chance that I could be wrong, though, and my heart is already berating my head for being a pussy. I guess we'll see.

If you're trash-talking: Sounds weird to be counseling smack talk when I've just predicted a loss, but before the game starts, at least, you can remind LSU fans that we've absolutely obliterated their team the last two times we've played them. The more recent of the two, of course, was for an SEC title, but the other one, that 2004 regular-season matchup I've already alluded to, was an even bigger ass-pounding. Anything to add, Westerdawg?

Ahh, yes, that was a guh-lore-rious afternoon. Even if we get trucked on Saturday, they can't take that one away from us.

Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: Because LSU just won a national title and they should be happy with that. And if you're a fan of one of the Tigers' SEC West rivals, certainly, you should be rooting for a Georgia win so that a little wind will be taken out of the notoriously rowdy LSU fan base's sails before you have to face them.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins, period. Come on. It's the defending national champions; it's a conference game; it's in Baton Rouge. Whether we win by one point or thirty, I'll be deliriously happy come Sunday morning.

Wednesday, October 22

An open letter to Nancy Pfotenhauer.

Dear Nancy,

I may claim Alabama as my current place of residence and Georgia as my alma mater, but Virginia is technically my home state, the place where I was born. I popped out of my mother's uterus at Roanoke Memorial Hospital, lived there until I was about two and a half, spent another five years down the road in Radford, lived in Lynchburg for a year where I had my first job out of college. My dad was born in Richmond and my mom was born in Fredericksburg; mom's side of the family still resides on their family farm in Caroline County, and my dad still has siblings and nieces and nephews from the D.C. suburbs all the way down I-81 to Blacksburg. So I think I know the state pretty well.

Well enough, in any case, to ask you: Who the hell do you think you are, dividing my home state into "real Virginia" and (I'm inferring here) fake Virginia like that?

You attended George Mason University for grad school and, as you said, currently live in Fairfax County; I've been unable to locate any evidence that you've ever set foot in what you call "real Virginia" at all. So let me tell you a little bit about this part of the state, the part that I grew up in. Last week, more than 10,000 people came out in the driving rain in Roanoke -- yup, my birthplace, down in that southwest part of the state -- to hear Barack Obama speak. In Lynchburg, home of the late Jerry Falwell's ministry and university, I still keep in touch with friends and former co-workers who intend to vote for Obama. And over in the rolling hills of Caroline County, Tidewater farming country, I've got relatives who get up at 5 a.m. to feed the cows, work hard, and go to church every Sunday -- and they didn't vote for Bush in 2004 and have shown no intention of voting for McCain this year.

Meanwhile, up in that northern part of the state you tossed off as the breeding ground of a bunch of D.C. carpetbaggers, I have other relatives who are also regular churchgoers, who raised their families well and are now seeing that effort reflected in a new generation as their kids raise beautiful, stable families of their own -- the kinds of values I'm guessing you so highly prize in those "real Virginians" you've only ever seen on TV. They've worked hard to make good lives for themselves and are just as worried as the folks in Roanoke and Bowling Green and Radford about how the economic crisis is going to affect them. And without naming names, I can think of specific relatives who will be voting for Obama this year, and other specific relatives who almost certainly won't be -- but that just goes to show you how not everybody in the state, even in that supposedly homogenous lump of D.C. expatriates in northern Virginia, is as easily categorized as you seem to think they are.

Four years ago, Ms. Pfotenhauer, people on your side of the aisle roundly criticized John Edwards for his "two Americas" rhetoric, calling it "divisive" and "class warfare" -- and now you're doing pretty much the exact same thing in an effort to dig a gap between Obama supporters and the hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types who live in rural areas and supposedly harbor more "traditional" values. You've been so busy digging that trench, though, that you've missed something important: Those two groups actually have a whole lot of people in common. In Virginia, for instance, every poll taken this month has shown Obama in the lead -- by double digits, according to the last Rasmussen poll, and I'm sorry, a margin that big can't consist solely of latte-sipping Fairfax County elites. In North Dakota, an almost entirely rural state that no Democrat has won since LBJ routed Goldwater in '64, the most recent poll showed Obama dead even with McCain. Georgia, where my parents still live, went for Bush by 17 points in 2004 but has only seen fit to give your guy a 5.4-point margin that's getting smaller by the day. And in Iowa -- a state that's both literally and figuratively about as close to Middle America as it's possible to get -- so many "real Americans" are supporting Obama that your campaign has evidently given up on campaigning there.

How did so many of these non-big-city-living, non-carpetbagging, "real" Americans -- the kind of folks whom, if I understand you correctly, you're sort of counting on to carry John McCain to victory -- end up in Obama's column? I'm not Larry Sabato and I don't have a political-science degree, but I'll hazard a guess: Instead of addressing health care or talking frankly about taxes or coming up with a plan for energy independence any more substantial than "drill baby drill" -- all of which Obama has done, incidentally -- you guys have apparently been spending your time in the back of the Straight Talk Express, hunched over a U.S. map, drawing what I can only imagine are fantastically intricate lines to separate fake America, the part from which you don't seek any support, from the "real" parts. While Obama has been talking issues, you've been picking out certain isolated pockets of the country -- not regions, not even states, but evidently parts of states -- where name-dropping Bill Ayers and tossing off tired old scare words like "socialist" will do the most damage.

Seriously, Ms. Pfotenhauer, has it not sunk in yet that that isn't working? I mean, I can't even begin to hazard a guess as to how many voters live in what you define as "real Virginia" or "real America" or whatever else, but clearly it isn't as many as you thought there were, or else you wouldn't be behind in the polls right now. You've got a lot of ground to make up and a lot of minds to change if you're going to win, so maybe now's the time to stop spending so much energy picking out the "real" Americans and start building a vision that resonates with all Americans. You know, kind of like Barack Obama's been trying to do.

Look, I'm not naive -- I know there are big differences between northern and southern Virginia, just like there are differences between Los Angeles and Lower Alabama, Manhattan (New York) and Manhattan (Kansas), etc. etc. etc. But the fact remains, all those places are still going to have only one president come November 5. If John McCain only wants to be president of part of it, he's going to end up president of none of it -- which is exactly what someone with that kind of mindset deserves.

Now I've got to get back to work, where I won't be dwelling on whether Hollywood celebrities are warping my mind or whether latte-sipping New Yorkers like fried chicken or college football as much as I do; I'll be dwelling on doing my job and hoping that our shrinking state budget permits me to still have one come tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I'm willing to bet there are people in both northern Virginia and "real" Virginia who are having the same worries right about now -- maybe you should spend a little more time focusing on those universal types of issues than on trying to figure out which Virginian is which.

Doug Gillett

Week 8 BlogPoll ballot, updated.

Proof that your comments do, in certain instances, prompt me to rethink my stupid-ass opinions: Jerry Hinnen of the quite excellent Auburn blog The Joe Cribbs Car Wash looked at my last BlogPoll ballot and asked why I had Pitt below South Florida, given that the Panthers had knocked off the Bulls in their own house. The only reasons I could come up with were lingering prejudice against the Wannstache and a dearth of attention paid to Pitt in general this year, neither of which seemed good enough in retrospect, so I moved some teams around, and here's what resulted:

The differences between this and the last ballot: South Florida goes from 13 to 18, but you'll note that a #18 ranking for USF doesn't represent any change from the previous week's ballot, which seems fair for a team that didn't do anything other than destroy a terrible Syracuse team at home this past weekend. As a result of USF moving out of the #13 spot, Boise State, Kansas, and Missouri rise up a notch. Pitt goes from 20 to 17, which causes Brigham Young and Georgia Tech to each drop a notch. Everything below that stays the same.

Oh, wait, I just remembered the other reason why I'm prejudiced against Pittsburgh: because Mark May went there. Still, probably not the most objective rationale for doing something.

Tuesday, October 21

A swift (and well-deserved) kick in the balls.

I don't cover a lot of high-school football on this blog, or in fact any that I can recall, but this story caught my eye:

Controversy follows girl football kicker

A female football kicker was let back on the field last weekend. But controversy keeps swirling around the decision to let her play football with home-schooled and private school boys.

The Georgia Football League official who sidelined Spalding County kicker Kacy Stuart for most of the season based on her gender gave in and allowed her to play. But he doesn’t want to discuss it.

“There’s no story,” said Hank St. Denis, the league’s executive board chairman. “She’s playing, isn’t she? End of story.”

Little defensive there, Hank, but whatever. The funniest part of the story, however, was this:

The first team Kacy faced relied on the Bible to express its beliefs about female football players in a pre-game statement, said New Creation athletic director Coach Ken Townley.

“The East Atlanta Mustangs didn’t play us under protest but they were allowed to read a statement on their beliefs about female football players,” Townley said. “They used biblical verses from the book of Romans. I was very stunned by that.”

Mustangs Coach Alan Hawkins did not immediately return phone calls or e-mails Monday asking for comment. St. Denis didn’t want to discuss why he changed his mind after being sent a letter from an attorney representing the Stuarts.

The Crusaders beat the Mustangs 39-8, with Kacy doing all the kicking and completing three extra-point attempts, Townley said.

Wow, a 31-point loss? That's some team you got there, Coach Hawkins. Maybe your time would be better spent coming up with some new plays rather than scouring the Bible for reasons girls shouldn't be allowed to play football. (Or, alternately, you could just pray for your own team instead of preaching against other teams.)

Just out of curiosity, I wonder how the East Atlanta Mustangs feel about Sarah Palin?

Monday, October 20

Poll dancing, week 8: Break out the biscuits, baby, we've hit the big time.

Votin' time again, and I can now officially announce (even though I'm, like, two weeks late in doing so) that CBS Sports is the new home of the BlogPoll. We voters get our preliminary ballots (mine is below) in by noon Monday, which get tallied up and included in CBS's collection o' polls; finalized ballots are due by midday Wednesday, at which point that week's official BlogPoll results go up here, with the usual analysis and calling-out of nonsensical votes. Does that kind of make sense? Your comments and suggestions are, as before, welcomed, and I'll be sure to post any major changes between the preliminary ballot and the final ballot up here.

And now, week eight . . .

Games watched: Georgia-Vanderbilt, Alabama-Ole Miss, Texas-Missouri until things got completely out of hand in the first half, LSU-South Carolina thereafter.

1 Texas --
2 Alabama --
3 Penn State --
4 Oklahoma --
5 Florida --
6 Southern Cal --
7 Georgia --
8 Oklahoma State --
9 Ohio State 4
10 Utah 4
11 Texas Tech 1
12 LSU 1
13 South Florida 5
14 TCU 7
15 Boise State --
16 Kansas --
17 Missouri 8
18 Brigham Young 6
19 Georgia Tech 6
20 Pittsburgh 6
21 Northwestern 5
22 Cincinnati 4
23 Tulsa 1
24 Boston College 2
25 Arizona 1

Dropped Out: Wake Forest (#17), Virginia Tech (#19), North Carolina (#20), Michigan State (#22), Vanderbilt (#23).

Waiting room: Virginia Tech, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Oregon State, Minnesota.

· No change in the top eight this week, though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to flip-flop Penn State and Alabama at the #2 and #3 spots. As dominant as Alabama has been this season, they're not so good that someone couldn't punk them if they don't learn to put opponents away in the second half.

· Yes, Ohio State's back in the top ten after burying Michigan State. I don't know that we need to be worrying about a third straight Buckeye appearance in the national championship game just yet, but neither do I doubt that tOSU is poised to make the Big Ten race very interesting (perhaps a little too exciting for the SEC partisans who had hoped the Buckeyes would be banished from the MNC once and for all after their collapse in L.A.).

· Biggest riser of the week: Texas Christian, for emphatically thinning the ranks of the BCS-buster hopefuls last Thursday night. Plummeting: their victims, previously known as the BYU Cougars, and a suddenly flailing Missouri team. Yeah, we knew the Tigers couldn't play defense, but if the rest of the conference has started to figure out their offense, this stagecoach might be turning back into a pumpkin.

· A bunch of teams in the lower third of the poll got bounced out due variously to competitive losses (Vanderbilt), blowout losses (Michigan State), or being in the Atlantic Coast Conference (the other three). I had to replace them with somebody, and as a result, everything from 19 on down is pretty much a peanut gallery of the kinds of teams whose time in the top 25 you'll probably be able to measure with a stopwatch. For no particular reason I feel like Oregon should be in the top 25 somewhere, but they didn't even play this past week, so Arizona, who actually knocked off a ranked team, gets their spot. Flying-under-the-radar Boston College checks in at #24 for knocking off ACC frontrunner Virginia Tech, though being the frontrunner in the ACC right now is kind of like earning the Green Party's nomination for president. And no, I'm no crazier about having Georgia Tech in the top 20 than any of you are, but the fact is they just keep winning games, so there you go.

And the SEC Power Poll ballot:

1. Alabama -- The best team in the league has been doing their level best not to act like it over the last few weeks. If you had any doubt remaining in your mind as to whether Bama or Texas should be the #1 team in the nation, this past Saturday probably solved that for you.

2. Florida -- It occurred to me over the weekend that the Gators probably really wish they could've drawn Auburn out of the SEC West this year as opposed to the last two.

3. Georgia -- As with the Tennessee game, dumb mental errors and ill-timed penalties kept the final score against Vanderbilt from reflecting what was otherwise a pretty statistically dominant performance. They don't have long to work on what's causing that dominance to get lost in translation before they have to hop on the bus to Baton Rouge.

4. LSU -- Took a long time to figure out Stephen Garcia and the South Carolina offense, but when they finally did, they shut it down emphatically, which should give them some solid momentum as they head home to face the Dawgs.

5. Vanderbilt -- For a team that stayed as close to Georgia on the scoreboard as Vandy did, they never really looked like they were a threat to rise up and win the game; they're gonna need to pull another surprise win out of their bag of tricks pretty soon if they want to avoid a 6-6 finish.

6. South Carolina -- Played well against LSU in the first half but ran into a defensive buzzsaw in the second, which blunted a lot of the momentum they'd built up over a four-game win streak. At this point I'm starting to sense a familiar whiff of Shreveport in the air.

7. Ole Miss -- Hard to tell whether that was a genuinely solid team last Saturday or just one that benefited from another second-half Alabama snooze. For the time being, I'm going with the latter.

8. Kentucky -- Nice comeback against Arkansas, but Miss Cleo doesn't see a bunch more SEC wins in the Wildcats' future.

9. Arkansas -- When the Hogs were going up 20-7 on Kentucky, my thought was, "Wow, maybe this team is actually getting it together." Then they lost, and my thought was, "No, they're not."

10. Auburn -- Has any game lost its luster faster than this Thursday's Auburn-West Virginia matchup? What looked like a meeting of two potential juggernauts in the preseason is now merely a battle to see who's slightly less disappointing.

11. Tennessee -- Congrats on the SEC win. Don't get used to it.

12. Mississippi State -- Rats, I was really hoping for another 3-2 outing from these guys, but then State's quarterback had to go and start throwing touchdowns to the wrong team. You know a team is in dire straits when they can't even suck in entertaining fashion anymore.