Tuesday, December 30

"At least it's not Goofy."

You can find some very interesting things going through practice reports, and I found a good one whilst digging around for info for the Michigan State preview below. Peep this nugget from the end of Macon Telegraph blogger David Hale's Saturday practice notes:

-- Georgia's players visited Disney World on Saturday, something [Asher] Allen said he hadn't done since he was 8 or 9 years old. The cornerback said he had good memories from his last trip, however, and was hoping to relive a few this time around.

"I'll talk to Minnie Mouse," he said, "and rekindle some flames."

"Rekindle some flames," huh? Wow . . . first the revelation that Knowshon Moreno is a Lego enthusiast, now we have Asher Allen revisiting his grade-school dream of gettin' his swerve on with Minnie Mouse. Maybe we can hope this childlike enthusiasm will carry over into the Capital One Bowl itself, and we'll tackle with abandon like a bunch of nine-year-olds convinced of their own invulnerability rather than like a bunch of geriatrics who are loath to make full contact for fear of breaking a hip.

And I say all this as someone who has vague memories of a crush on Smurfette circa age four or so, so it's not like I'm judging here.

Monday, December 29

Stuck inside of O-Town with the Miami blues again: the Michigan State preview.

This! Is! SPARTYYYY!!!!

Hometown: East Lansing, Mich.

Last season: Not half bad, actually, considering they were coming off of four seasons of John L. Smith-induced suck; started with a 4-0 sweep of their out-of-conference opponents, then kind of hit a wall as they went 3-5 in Big Ten play, but ended up in the Champs Sports Bowl and came within a field goal of knocking off 10-3 Boston College.

The season thus far: After losing by a TD to California on the road in their season opener, reeled off six straight wins before getting blown off the field by Ohio State. Won another three straight, including their first victory in Ann Arbor since 1990, before getting whacked again in their regular-season finale at Penn State. Currently 9-3 (6-2 Big Ten), 19th in the Associated Press poll, 18th in the coaches', and 18th in the BCS.

Hate index, 1 being novelist Donna Tartt, 10 being Florida offensive lineman Jim Tartt: Erm . . . I'll say five? Honestly, I pay so little attention to the Big Ten on a day-to-day basis that it's hard to gin up a whole lot of hate for any of 'em. As a declared Michigan fan, I guess I should have nothing but contempt for Sparty, but they do appear to have gotten it together after a period of thorough dysfunction immediately following the Nick Saban era, so I guess I'm a little happy for 'em. But it's still imperative that we kick their asses.

Associated hottie: Model/actress Tracey McCall earned her bachelor's degree in communications from MSU and went on to appear on TV shows such as "Gilmore Girls" and "Dr. Vegas," as well as a pilot of a show called "Young MacGyver" (?). But it'd be hard to top her big-screen debut, which was in "Not Another Teen Movie" playing the part of "Locker Room Girl."

OK, a swimsuit's one thing, but a swimsuit and boots? That's seminudity we can believe in, my friends.

What excites me: Calling Michigan State's offense "one-dimensional" might be a bit much, but if the stats are any indication, they're one-and-a-half-dimensional at best. On the one hand, you've got Javon Ringer, the nation's third-leading rusher with 1,590 yards (132.5 per game) racked up at a 4.3-ypc clip and 21 touchdowns; on the other you've got quarterback Brian Hoyer, who's passed for 2,235 yards with a completion percentage of just over 50 percent and who has nine TDs against eight picks, for a passer-efficiency rating that's 88th in D-IA. That isn't Reggie Ball territory, but it's hardly the stuff of legends, and it greatly simplifies the challenge Willie Martinez faces as a defensive coordinator, particularly given Sparty's lack of any true game-breaking receivers (they have a grand total of five individual 80-yard receiving games this season, while Georgia, by comparison, has 10).

Here's something interesting I found out while looking into all this, though: At 59th in the nation, MSU's passing game is actually ranked higher than their running game, which is only 67th. That tells me two things: One, there isn't a lot of depth behind Ringer at tailback -- Michigan State is only getting an average of 10.5 rushing yards per game from rushers not named Ringer, whereas Georgia is getting about 44 per game from rushers other than Knowshon -- and two, Ringer can be contained by the right defense. Michigan State faced seven BCS-conference opponents this season who were good enough to earn bowl invites, and here's how he did against five of them:

vs. Penn State: 17 carries for 42 yards
vs. Ohio State: 16 carries for 67 yards
vs. Wisconsin: 21 carries for 54 yards
vs. Cal: 27 carries for 81 yards
vs. Iowa: 25 carries for 91 yards

In the other two games, Ringer put up 201 yards against Notre Dame (46th-ranked run defense in the nation) and 124 against Northwestern (34th). Otherwise, none of his hundred-yard rushing games came against teams that finished the regular season with a winning record. Even after the debacle against Georgia Tech, Georgia's run defense is holding at 39th in the nation (just a tick under 130 yards allowed per game), so on paper, at least, Ringer's not going to be able to go nuts the way he did against, say, Florida Atlantic.

On the defensive side of the ball, there's not a lot to get excited about if you're a Michigan State fan. At 71st in the nation, MSU's is statistically the worst run defense Knowshon Moreno will have faced all year, allowing 147.6 yards per game; their pass defense was only slightly better at 210.3 yards per game/62nd (on our schedule, only LSU's was worse). The Spartans aren't in the top 25 nationally in any major defensive category, and they only break the top 50 in pass-efficiency defense (26th), scoring defense (40th), and tackles for loss (40th with just over six per game). Obviously it would suck royally to lose either Stafford or Moreno to the pros after this season (to say nothing of both), but if they're looking for a game in which to roll up some impressive numbers and impress the NFL scouts, this isn't a bad opponent to face.


What worries me: All of the vulnerabilities I pointed out in Michigan State's power running attack basically hinge on one caveat: whether Georgia re-learns how to tackle sometime between now and New Year's Day. Y'all were watching the Bulldogs over the last half of the season just like I was, so it's not like this is shocking information to any of you, but our run defense completely imploded over the last month and a half of the season. After not allowing a single opponent to go over 150 yards rushing through the first seven games, we let four of our last five opponents do it; after allowing a mere 427 rushing yards total through those first seven games, at an average of only 2.4 yards per carry, we gave up 1,132 over the last five games at an even five yards per rush. (Take out the eye-gouging statistical outlier of the Georgia Tech game and it was still 4.2 yards per carry.) So even if the equation here is as simple as "If Georgia's defense shows up, we win," we still have no idea if the Dawgs are going to actually, you know, show up. Mark Richt has made the right noises over the past few weeks about recognizing where the defense went off the rails and making some needed adjustments in practice, but you'll have to pardon me if I take a decidedly "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude toward such things; watching Georgia Tech reel off 400 rushing yards against you will do that to a guy.

Because the letdown opportunity here is big enough as it is. I mean, here's a team frontloaded with an entire NFL draft round's worth of talent and sporting the preseason #1 ranking; no offense, Orlando, but you think any of these guys were giddy with anticipation over the Capital One Bowl at the start of this season? I've probably invoked the specter of "Kansas State Syndrome" on this blog (and others) more times than anyone ever cared to read, but sorry, folks, sometimes it just bears repeating: When a team goes into a low- or even mid-tier bowl thinking it deserved better, their chances of losing increase dramatically. We've seen it happen time and time again, and we've got to be on upset alert this time around whether we want to be or not.

Player who needs to step up: For the first time this season, I'm going to pick someone who's a) not actually a player and b) not actually a single individual at all: the people who most need to step up on Thursday are the entire coaching staff. Everybody from Richt on down has been catching hell for nearly a solid month about how the team looked so unprepared in its big games this season, they've been stung by the way de-emphasizing full contact in weekday practices backfired on the team down the stretch, so now's their time to show they can still gin up the ol' Erk Russell-style intensity and get the players back to Getting After That Ass once again. Only problem is, they'll have to do it at a time when some of their guys are at risk of focusing more on the bowl they're not playing in (i.e. the BCS National Championship) than the one that they are. There will be no black jerseys this time around, Mark, there will be no end-zone celebrations or championships to shoot for -- y'all are gonna have to do this the old-fashioned way.

What I think will happen: Am I worried about this game? Yes. Throw out Georgia's statistical superiority in just about every category, throw out even our talent edge, which at first glance, at least, is pronounced. We had both of those in spades against South Carolina, Kentucky, and Auburn, just to name three right off the top of my head, yet we still ended up sweating blood (or bullets? bullets of blood?) right down to the very final seconds against each of those opponents. So I'll have none of this "Oh, whatever, it's the Big Ten" talk that I've been hearing from a number (though by no means the majority) of Georgia fans. If you thought losing to Georgia Tech and coughing one up to the ACC was embarrassing, imagine following that up by coughing one up to the Big 10 after two straight years of "Will the Big 10 ever stop embarrassing itself against the SEC?" talk.

I'd much rather have a scoreboard that looks like this (without the Gators, of course).

But here's one reason why I'm cautiously optimistic about this particular bowl: Georgia teams under Mark Richt have done a remarkably good job of avoiding the K-State Syndrome I referenced earlier. In 2003, we got bumped down to the Capital One Bowl after getting housed in the SEC title game by LSU, and still managed to roll up a 24-0 lead before, er, losing focus a bit and having to win the thing in overtime. Last year, of course, we were miffed at losing out on a spot in the national-title game, but still managed to rip an admittedly inferior Hawaii team every bit as many new assholes as people said we should've on paper. In fact, the bowl we probably should've been most grateful for -- the '06 Sugar, following our out-of-nowhere SEC-title run -- we came out pancake-flat and got embarrassed by West Virginia. So I'm going to go ahead and have a little faith in Richt's ability to keep the team motivated here.

Motivation, though, is one thing; tackling is a little more concrete. And I don't need to remind anyone that we haven't been real good at that lately. Going back to highly edifying transcript from a post-GT edition of the "Bulldog Hotline" show, Richt appears to have recognized that he and the rest of the coaching staff backed off full-contact tackling drills too much in practice this season in the name of tiptoeing around injuries. So hopefully the team will be a little bit toughened up in that area this week, but there's no way to be sure until the game actually begins.

Just a quick visual aid as to what an effective tackle looks like.

I think there's great potential for Georgia to get off to a fast start -- whatever the Michigan State players try to tell themselves, Georgia is both way more balanced and a step faster on offense than the majority of the teams they've faced so far this season. If Ohio State's offense, slumming it at 78th in the nation (tied with Tulane), can unload 45 points on the Spartans, then I should think Georgia would be capable of at least that much damage. The problem is that over the last few games, Georgia has let a fast (or at least solid) start go by the wayside. They were down only 7-3 to Florida midway through the second quarter, then let the Gators score the next 42 points; they needed less than eight minutes to put up a 14-0 lead on Kentucky, but found themselves having to claw their way back from three separate deficits in the second half; and I'm sure we all remember vividly how Georgia's 28-12 halftime lead over Tech was vaporized by a fusillade of outside pitches and crappy arm-tackles. Whatever Richt and the coaching staff do to get the Dawgs pumped up for this game, it'll be all for naught if they fail to remember that that motivation job has to last the full 60 minutes.

So if Georgia plays the full 60 minutes and gives their best effort, I think Westerdawg's right: We put up a bunch of points and roll by a multiple-TD margin. There is, however, precedent for the Dawgs to only play one half, and if that happens then I think we're more likely to come out strong but tail off in the second half. MSU's best scoring quarter this season, on average, was the fourth, while they allowed their fewest points in the third quarter. So it'd take a pretty substantial halftime lead (assuming we're fortunate enough to have one at all) to make me feel like the game is well in hand.

I can see Georgia shooting out to another fast start, but getting slowed down a bit as Ringer gets into a rhythm and starts wearing down our defense with some long, pound-it-between-the-tackles scoring drives. As much as I'd like to think the defense is going to come up with a bravura performance to atone for its November embarrassments, I just can't force myself to get too hopeful about any defense that's averaged 36 points allowed over its last five games. I think we've got more than enough firepower to stay ahead of the Spartans on the scoreboard, but not enough in the tank defensively to pull away decisively, and if we do have a lead in the final minutes of the game it's not likely to be more than a TD -- but I envision Knowshon taking the reins on a late drive and grinding enough time off the clock that the Spartans are unable to come up with a response.

At Georgia, we don't just grind the clock, we do it in style.

Whether it's by one score or five, though, a win is a win, and it'd give us double-digit wins for the sixth time in Mark Richt's eight seasons. It'd be an inspiring way to end an often frustrating season -- and, God willing, a positive momentum-builder for what could be (if we catch a couple lucky breaks personnel-wise, please oh please oh please) an excellent 2009.

If you're trash-talking: Mark Dantonio appears to have ably pulled the Michigan State conestoga wagon out of the ditch John L. Smith steered it into from 2003 to 2006, for which he deserves his props, but God bless him, the man makes Tom Coughlin look relaxed and free-spirited. Here's the true, horse's-mouth-fresh story of the benching of starting offensive guard Joel Foreman back in November:

EAST LANSING -- The question posed to Mark Dantonio created a moment of awkward silence Sunday night inside Michigan State's Skandalaris Football Center.

Why did left guard Mike Bacon start Saturday over Joel Foreman against Wisconsin?

"Well, do you really want to know or do you want me to give you some fabricated, made-up story?" Dantonio asked. "(Foreman) didn't have a tie on, OK? He didn't have a tie on."

Ties are required accessories for every player on Saturdays to complement suits worn during the team's traditional pregame walk from its on-campus hotel to Spartan Stadium.

"That speaks to the discipline of the program," Dantonio said. "He didn't have a tie on so he didn't start. That hurts our football team, but that's the way it's going to be."

Yup, he benched a guy for not wearing a tie whilst walking from the hotel to the stadium. This before a game in which MSU ended up trailing a 4-5 team at halftime (at home) and had to kick a last-minute field goal to win by one point. I love a coach whose priorities are in order.

Now THAT'S what Mark Dantonio calls a football player, son!

Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: Well, because first of all, I think we should all be loath to root for any team whose coach puts neckwear before actual, demonstrated on-the-field talent. But for you SEC partisans out there, this is another vital opportunity for the conference to defend its honor against the lumbering dinosaurs of the Big 10. And if you don't even care about the conferences, then . . . cheer for us because our colors are better and our mascot's cuter. Or something. I don't know.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia scores at least 40 points and holds MSU under 20. That'd be, by definition, at least a three-TD victory, and I need something like that after a disappointing season in which I've only gotten to do the flag run once (after the LSU game). But if we pull something like a 42-17 curb-stomping on Sparty, then I will head straight outside with my Georgia flag and do the deed, even though Weather.com says it'll probably only be in the low 50s by that point. And there will be pictures. Whether that prompts you to root against a Georgia blowout is up to you, but that's the deal.

Life's funny sometimes, and by "funny" I mean "a complete bitch."

Washington goes 8-8, finishes last in the NFC East, misses the playoffs.

San Diego goes 8-8, finishes first in the AFC West, not only makes the playoffs but gets a first-round game at home.

I don't know why I even bother following the NFL anymore. When it's gotten so bad you can't even fully enjoy a complete implosion by the Cowboys, you know you're having the very life sucked out of you. Even my fantasy team tanked the last couple of weeks, which just happened to be the playoffs, so it's not like I could even scrape any vicarious enjoyment off of a few individual players.

I guess it's go Falcons/Colts from here on out, assuming I even bother getting out of bed on Sundays. But at least Vince's kid won something, which was heartening. Mark my words: Derek's gonna be the next coach at Arkansas when Petrino finally bolts for the Notre Dame job. You heard it here first.

UPDATED TO KEEP ME OFF THE LEDGE: OK, this was kinda teh awesome.

Saturday, December 27

I'm the richest man in Bedford Falls!, etc.

Now that I've gone back through the books and talked about some of my favorite Christmas presents from years past, here's one of the best things I got this year:

ORLANDO, Fla. — While Auburn announced several additions to its coaching staff Friday, one coach who won’t be joining the Tigers is Stacy Searels.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt announced Friday that Searels, the Dogs’ offensive line coach, will remain at Georgia after his alma mater, Auburn, had shown interest for a position on their staff.

Major daps to the UGA athletic department for recognizing that Searels has probably already become the crown jewel of our staff of assistants and for dumping whatever amount of money in his lap that it took to keep him. If Searels could take our diabolically banged-up O-line this year and coach them to a mere 15 sacks allowed (good for 20th in D-IA) and another 1,300-yard rushing season for Knowshon Moreno, I'm really excited to think of what he might be able to do next year when we aren't having to start a near-constant M*A*S*H unit on the line of scrimmage. It's probably greedy (and, paradoxically, naive) to wonder if this might have some sort of influence on getting Knowshon and Stafford to stick around for another year, but we can always hope.

Friday, December 26

The Friday Random Ten+5 really raked it in this year.

Sorry for the relative lateness of this Random Ten+5 -- I've spent much of the day sleeping off Thursday's gift-wrap-shreddin', present-openin' excitement, not to mention numerous helpings of holiday wassail. (Know who makes awesome wassail? George Dickel. I'm just saying.) Now, as I've already admitted, the Lego Taj Mahal was not sitting underneath the tree when I lumbered downstairs Thursday morning, but I can't really complain, given that I've gotten much more than my share of awesome presents during my 30.5 years on this planet (plus it's not like I can expect my parents to feed my Lego habit at quite the same rate they did when I was 9). I've looked back over my most vivid Christmas-morning memories and picked out some of the best loot I've ever received, and this week's +5 is the Five Best Christmas Presents I've Ever Gotten.

In-dash car CD player (1996, I think)
The first brand-new car I ever owned was a Chrysler Neon in 1995, which was just about the time when CD players started becoming standard equipment on mainstream automobiles. They hadn't quite trickled down to Neon level, though, so I made do with a tape player for about a year and a half before the folks finally broke down and got me a CD unit that would match the absurdly large stereo openings typical of Chrysler dashboards of that era. This CD player rapidly achieved notoriety amongst my group of friends for having a totally over-the-top equalizer display that had to have been designed by an engineer who was once the world's biggest and most devoted fan of "Knight Rider."

Cabbage Patch Kid astronaut (1985)
The special-edition "astronaut" series of Cabbage Patch Kids came out at a time when the popularity bell-curves of both Cabbage Patch Kids and the space program were miraculously hitting their glorious peaks simultaneously; my brown-haired little boy came with a space suit, EVA pack, and helmet, all of which I had ambitions of wearing as an astronaut myself someday. About a month later, the Challenger blew up on live national TV, and it probably wasn't much longer after that that Cabbage Patch Kids went from "must-have toy" to "Jeopardy question," but still, it was a nice run for both of 'em while it lasted.

#4 Georgia jersey (1998)
These days, you can only get a replica UGA jersey if you want a #24 or a #7, but back in the day you could get a #4, which just happened to be my birthday, my lucky number, and the number of my favorite Georgia player, two-way demigod Champ Bailey. The lucky jersey made its debut at the 1998 Peach Bowl, in which Georgia stormed back from an early 21-0 hole to beat a ranked Virginia team, and achieved a 68-22 record (0.756) over the ensuing decade's worth of games. (Yes, I kept track. How else would I be able to determine whether it was lucky or not?)

Game Boy (1989)
I don't exactly have a great track record of getting cool electronic gadgets before everyone else gets them -- in fact, I think that track record is pretty much limited to the 3G iPhone and this, which my parents were kind enough to bestow upon my undeserving ass back when I was in seventh grade. This made me just the second (as opposed to, say, 27th) kid in my neighborhood to get one, and I quickly developed a fearsome reputation for schooling punk suckas who acted like they knew at Tetris (via the Game Link cable that let you play such games head-to-head with fellow Game Boy owners, which I'm sure was like the absolute pinnacle of video-game technology back in the late '80s).

Optimus Prime (1984)
Everyone has that first special childhood toy that they can specifically remember lusting after, and this was mine. It was the start of a Transformers collection whose value probably grew into the thousands of dollars by the time I got old enough to turn my primary attention from toys to chicks and cars, which is a saga that I'm sure will be familiar to my male readers of a certain age. (Remember when "Transformers: The Movie" came out in 1986 and an entire nation of little boys was reduced to quavering tears by the "death" of Optimus Prime? In a weird, calculated way, that movie was the "Brian's Song" of our generation and we all know it.) Anyway, I've dug back through my memory banks and just haven't quite been able to come up with any holiday memories that quite top the excitement of tearing this bad boy open on Christmas morning. Optimus Prime rocked, period.

And now the Ten, courtesy of Mr. iPhone:

1. Radiohead, "Where I End and You Begin (The Sky Is Falling In)"
2. Kraak and Smaak, "Il Serpente"
3. Radiohead, "Paranoid Android"
4. David Holmes, "My Mate Paul"
5. The Chemical Brothers, "Marvo Ging"
6. Röyksopp, "Follow My Ruin"
7. Nicola Conte, "Bossa Per Due" (Thievery Corporation remix)
8. R.E.M., "At My Most Beautiful"
9. Spoon, "The Way We Get By"
10. Dan Bern, "Tiger Woods"

Your turn, kids. Let me hear your fondest memories of Christmas loot (and your Random Tens) in the comments, assuming you're not too busy riding your Big Wheels up and down the driveway.

Thursday, December 25

One more 'cuz it's Christmas.

The spirit of giving is in the air, plus the Hey Jenny Slater Salute to the Sexy Santa Costume will always have room for Stacy Keibler.

All right, so what'd everybody get for Christmas? I picked up a digital camera, a red-and-black argyle sweater that will soon be the envy of Georgia tailgates across the Southeast, and a bunch of DVDs to begin the process of replacing my far-bigger-than-it-ought-to-be cassette collection; I did not, however, get the Lego Taj Mahal. So if any of y'all did, just don't tell me. I'm better off not knowing.

Monday, December 22

'Twas three days before Christmas, and all through the house . . .

. . . aw, the hell with it, I don't have time to write a whole frickin' "The Night Before Christmas" parody. I do, however, have time for Hey Jenny Slater's annual tribute to the Sexy Santa costume.

This year, instead of Alessandra Ambrosio, we kick off with Heidi Klum singing "Santa Baby."

As I'm typing this, it's 29 degrees in Birmingham. So she'd be very cold if she was wearing that right now.

Michelle Monaghan in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which I've never actually seen but meant to because I heard it was good (and not just because of the Sexy Santa-ing).

An Arizona Cardinals cheerleader who looks a hell of a lot better than her team did last Sunday.

A Carolina Panthers cheerleader, ditto.

And I guess this is kind of stretching the definition of "Sexy Santa costume," but Lucy Pinder (left) gets special dispensation. And it's my blog, so lay off.

Merry Christmas, dorks -- drive safe if you're traveling this holiday season, but once you get where you're going, eat too much and get fucking wasted. Do it for the children.

Friday, December 19

The Friday Random Ten+5 sells out.

One of my early New Year's resolutions (or resolution-like substance) is to get off my fat ass and put some real effort into making some money off the crap that I write -- double up on my freelancing efforts, sell a short story or two, finally buckle down and dig into the football novel I've had the idea to write for like a decade now. Theoretically, that could also include making some more money off this blog -- I mean, I have a little trickle of cash coming in every few months from the Google ads you see on this site, which I'm grateful for, but it could stand to be kicked up a notch. Is this site reputable enough to bring in some cash through direct editorial endorsements of various products and services? Ehh, probably not, but Todd at Roll Bama Roll evidently thinks his is, because he took the bold step earlier this week of singling out some brands he would gladly (and blatantly) shill for in exchange for a certain amount of that company's products. Kind of like a barter system, in other words, and I'm totally down with that. Cash doesn't necessarily need to change hands here, just some products whose regular (and free) presence could markedly improve my standard of living. So take a look, corporate America (and other countries), because I'm ready to start making deals here. And this week's +5 is Five Products I'd Be More Than Happyth To Shill For On A Trade Basis:

Todd is 100-percent right about this one -- there ain't a single thing on their menu that I couldn't eat every day. In fact, Zaxby's came up in conversation at the office the other day and I determined that if I was stranded on a deserted island and could only have one kind of food washing up in crates on the shore every now and then, it'd be Zaxby's chicken fingers. Along with an advertising/endorsement trade deal, I'll even throw in a free marketing idea for you, guys: Start selling breakfast. Go head-to-head with Chick-fil-A in the chicken-biscuit arena; the tougher competition will make both companies work harder to create an even more perfect product, and the consumer will benefit. There; you can drop my block of gift certificates in the mail whenever it's convenient.

Cherry Coke Zero
The discovery of this wonderful concoction in my office was treated with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm I imagine mankind displayed when he first figured out how to create fire. It doesn't have any calories, but it doesn't have the bitter artificial-sweetener taste of a traditional diet drink, and to my mind it actually tastes better than regular Coke because it isn't so sugary sweet I think I'm giving myself diabetes every time I take a sip. I'm not a huge soft-drink consumer to begin with, but I figure if Coke sends my office a 12-pack every week we can call it even.

Jaguar Cars Ltd.
I still love my VW, but it'll be 10 years old next August, and it's probably a good time to at least start putting feelers out about possible replacements. And the Jaguar XF -- the supercharged replacement for the old S-Type that was named to Car and Driver's 10Best list in its first year of production -- is at the top of my list. Jaguar, you don't even have to give me one, just lend it to me for a year and I'll still give you all the free press you can stand. When that year is up, we can talk about re-upping the deal, but at the very least I'll have paid off my credit cards to the point where I can actually think about absorbing a car payment again.

Southwest Airlines
I flew SWA out to Arizona back in September and it was a pretty good experience, but I didn't really think a whole lot of it until I boarded a US Airways flight out to Los Angeles two months later. In addition to the $300-something US Airways charged me for a ticket, they charged me $15 to check a suitcase and another two bucks for a Coke on the Charlotte-L.A. leg. Yup, you don't even get so much as a Coke or a packet of peanuts without forking over some cash. Meanwhile, Southwest doesn't charge for the first two checked bags, doesn't charge extra for window or aisle seats, and slings free soft drinks all day long. Guys, between that and Birmingham's status as a secondary hub, you had me at "hello," and for the comparatively low cost of one free round-trip ticket per month you can plaster ads all over this site until you're blue in the face.

Stoli Blakberi
For those of you who caught one of my Facebook updates earlier in the week, this is the brew I was drinking straight at our office Christmas party at my editor's house. Knowing my history with vodka, it's a wonder I'm still employed as of this writing, but man, what wonderful stuff. It's just sweet enough that you can drink it straight even if you're not a drunk like myself, it has a nice aroma, and it makes for a vodka tonic that's damn near the nectar of the gods. Stoli has been my brand for a while now, but guys, you've outdone yourselves -- now your job is to keep a regular supply of this stuff coming my way so that I can extol its many virtues and come up with new recipes to spread far and wide. My next concept? The vodka float -- one half-fill glass of Blakberi, add a splash of Ocean Spray cran-raspberry juice, dump in a big heapin' scoop of vanilla ice cream (or, alternatively, this), float away on a cloud of ecstasy. I think y'all hear me knockin', and I think I'm comin' in.

My pockets are empty, my hand is out, my principles have temporarily been suspended -- let's do this, people. And now the Ten:

1. The Chemical Brothers, "Song to the Siren"
2. Pet Shop Boys, "So Hard" (The KLF vs. Pet Shop Boys remix)
3. BT, "Deeper Sunshine"
4. The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go"
5. INXS, "Need You Tonight"
6. Underworld, "To Heal"
7. Underworld, "EssGee"
8. Orbital, "Waving Not Drowning"
9. Pet Shop Boys, "It Must Be Obvious" (UFO mix)
10. Bananarama, "Venus"

Your turn to make that pitch, readers -- Random Tens and/or naked appeals to major corporations for mutual marketing-centered back-scratching go in the comments.

Thursday, December 18

A memo from the desk of Arnold T. Pants, Esq.:
We have a winner (and more than a few wieners).

First things first: The Big Ass Pick'Em Group, the official pick'em goup of Hey Jenny Slater, has a winner, and she is . . . a Gator fan. (Son of a bitch, those people win everything. Everything.) All hail Jamie Barnhart (who can be seen here in a photo that has "Hot Chicks with Douchebags" written all over it), a Florida native and ex-Navy SEAL who strolled into the final week with an insurmountable lead and will be taking home the grand prize of one (1) piece of gently used Georgia memorabilia that I dig out of my closet. She also gets this shout-out at Hey Jenny Slater, which is the kind of name-check you can't put a price on. Congratulations, Jamie, and don't say I never gave you anything.

(O bai the wai: You can still join the exciting sequel to the 2008 Big Ass Pick'Em Group, also known as the 2008 Big Ass College Bowl Pick'Em Group. Instructions on how to join here. Seriously, it's so easy even Jay Jacobs couldn't fuck it up.)

Second things second: Legos turned 50 this year, so y'all better act like you know. And what better way to mark this momentous occasion than to buy me this or this? No, I'm not letting go of this so you can stop asking. Why? Because Legos are hardcore. How hardcore? This hardcore:

Separated at birth: Gene Chizik and former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)?

And will Chizik do to the Auburn program what Frist managed to do to the Republican majority in the Senate? Alabama fans can only hope so.

College football headline of the year, courtesy of the ever-vigilant EDSBS:

Barack Obama: Pimpin' president, or the pimpin'est president?

Link courtesy of Mac G, who, as a Hawkeyes fan, is perhaps even more amused by the Chizik hire than the rest of us are.

And now for some YouTubeage: Two manifestly terrible Christmas gift ideas, the first of which apparently comes to you from the makers of the Ronco Pocket Bukkakinator.

I wonder if any of the kids in that commercial grew up to be this guy? Then there's the following wonderful family game:

The soundtrack and voice-over from that ad were sampled in a track on DJ Shadow's debut album Endtroducing... a decade or so ago. When I first heard it, I thought Shadow had to have made it up, but no, it turns out it's real. Finding out where the hell that came from was like a little Christmas present coming a few days early.

Monday, December 15

I'm a consultant and I'm here to help: the Iowa State coaching search.

Well, HJS Consulting's next project was going to be finding a new coach for Mississippi State, but they took care of that pretty nicely on their own, so now we turn our super-sharp consultant's eye on Iowa State, who recently lost their head guy after Auburn went in a decidedly different direction from our recommendation. Well, their loss, because we think we've found a doozy for the Cyclones. Let's take a look.

Iowa State University

Previous coach:
Gene Chizik.
Reasons for leaving: Auburn needed someone to replace Tommy Tuberville, and Chizik's sterling 5-19 (2-14 Big 12) record evidently made him irresistible.
What they need:
An established coach with a name prominent enough to draw some attention to what has historically been one of the least celebrated programs in Division I-A, yet one who is willing to take on a formidable building/rebuilding task.
Someone who is willing to work at a program with a reputation of being the "second banana" in its state.
Someone with rural roots and an appreciation for small-town life.

HJS Consulting recommends:

Tommy Tuberville

An authoritative CEO-type coach, Tuberville is one of the longer-serving and more respected coaches in D-IA, and if anything, that respect has only increased since his recent dismissal, even if only because of the way in which he was cast aside. In just two seasons, took Auburn from a 3-8 nonentity to an SEC West champion that earned a New Year's Day bowl invite, and did so in the shadow of an Alabama program that won the SEC title his first year. Previous jobs were in Oxford, Mississippi, and Auburn, Alabama, so presumably working in a somewhat remote town of 51,000 people would not bother him. With his defensive background, might implement a smash-mouth style of football that would be an interesting change of pace from the finesse offenses that have typified the Big 12 of late.
Caveats: Not known for fostering a great deal of loyalty or continuity amongst his assistant coaches, though that hardly appeared to be a strong suit of the previous ISU coach, either. Probably still complaining about being left out of the 2004 national-title game. Beware any supposedly emphatic statements about "pine boxes" or the like; past connections to the Auburn job, in particular, make him a prime candidate to take that job when it comes open in a couple years.

Next up: Army, who jettisoned Stan Brock after only two years and who would be content just to get within two touchdowns of Navy every once in a while.

Saturday, December 13

War eagle, fly down the drain.
(Updated with additional piling on.)

If Sunday Morning Quarterback/Dr. Saturday will permit me to steal a little bit of his steez here, I have a question for all of y'all football fans out there.

Coach A has 28 years of experience in coaching, including a few years in the NFL, and has been a head coach since 1995. He is 110-60 lifetime as a head coach, 52-30 in SEC play, has an SEC title and won at least a share of five division titles total. Four of his last five teams have finished the season ranked in the top 15, and one of those teams finished a perfect 13-0 with a Sugar Bowl win.

Coach B has 18 years of experience in coaching, the last two of which he has spent at his first head coaching job. He is 5-19 over those two years, 2-14 in conference play, and has finished no better than fifth in a six-team division. He is coming off a 10-game losing streak to finish the 2008 season, during which his team was winless in-conference.

Now, which is the coach that Auburn fired last week, and which is the guy they just picked to replace him?

No peeking.

ADDED, by popular demand, and by "popular" I mean a couple people who laughed when I told them this: I'm proposing that a new word be added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

chiz · ik ('chiz-ik or 'chiz-ək)
trans v, inf chiz · iked, chiz · ik · ing, chiz · ik · er
to attempt to resolve a problematic or potentially embarrassing situation as quickly as possible without regard to consequences or quality control
The president is trying to chizik the Big Three bailout before he leaves office

2 to effectively give up or admit defeat by submitting a careless, ill-considered solution -- syn PUNT
Let's just chizik this so we can all get out of here for the holidays

generic utterance of frustration and/or panic in response to a question for which one has no pertinent or satisfactory answer
Where did you put the tickets? Our flight leaves in less than an hour
Umm, uhh . . .

Son, what is this we found under your bed? Who taught you to do this stuff?
Dude, I don't know,

Stephanie, your word is 'sesquipedalian'
Uhhh . . . c-h-i-z-i-k,

etym from Auburn University football coach, 2008-

Thursday, December 11

OMG lolz! mybad! anyway can u pick up some plan b 4 me on the way 2 the arpt, kthxbai.

I've accrued a goodly number of friends on Facebook, but other than that I'm still kind of figuring out how to use it -- until yesterday, f'rinstance, I had never even posted a news story before.

This is the first one I picked.

Meet Elizabeth (Lizzy) Frisinger 18, isn’t she precious? She is also mind blowingly stupid. Elizabeth, a Senior in Cleveland went on a class trip where she lost her virginity on the beach. Apparently it was “gr8″.

We know this because young Lizzy was so excited about her conquest she texted her friend, except it wasn’t her friend, she had accidentally texted her dad. Class trip finished. Cue a slap to the forehead and wide spread humiliation on the interwebs.

You know, as funny as this was on first blush, it's actually kind of hard to see what the big deal is. When I lost my virginity about a decade or so ago, I texted my dad too, only I did it on purpose so that he'd know I had finally found a woman willing to let me see her naked. And when I came home for a visit later that week, there was a big banner stretched across the front of our house reading "Congratulations Doug! You're Not A Loser And/Or Homo!" It was really kind of a beautiful moment.

So maybe that's all that "Lizzy" was going for. Or maybe she has a friend who goes by the name "Dad." Either way, let's not be too quick to judge here.

(EDITED: A link, duh. 'Cause it's no fun without a link.)

Tuesday, December 9

A memo from the desk of Arnold T. Pants, Esq.:
Those who stay will be mildly amused.

· Let's face it, people: Statistically, 95 percent of you out there are probably disappointed to some degree with the bowl bid your team did or didn't get. So what better way to salve that disappointment than by participating in further competitive endeavors requiring you to predict the outcomes of bowls far more prestigious than yours?

Yup, Hey Jenny Slater is sponsoring an official Yahoo! College Bowl Pick'Em group, and you're all invited. (Except you. Yeah, you. You know who you are.) To join up, go to this link and enter group ID number 25595 and the password "croomtastic." And ta-da, you're part of an exclusive group consisting only of the millions of people who have nothing better to do! You pick each bowl and assign a confidence number from 1 to 34, you accumulate points with each game picked correctly, whoever has the most points after the BCS National Championship Game is played wins absolutely nothing. Sign up today!

· While you're ruminating on the bowl matchups, you can also take a look at every ballot submitted in the last coaches' poll here and see exactly where each coach ranked each team. The only voter not to include Georgia anywhere in his top 25? Oregon State's Mike Riley. Weirdly enough, though, Mark Richt didn't include the Beavers in his ballot, either. Maybe Richt and Riley hated each other as children; your guess is as good as mine. Other balloting follies can be read about and mocked openly at Simon on Sports.

· A commenter to my Christmas-list post pointed out that the link to my Amazon wish list was incorrect, so here's a new link that should do the trick. I'm not one to place an inordinate amount of emphasis on material goods, but if you were really my friend, you'd buy me stuff. Just saying.

· Josh has a highly insightful guide as to what you should do and not do when conjuring up a Facebook status update. I think J-dog is being a little dismissive of MySpace, though. It's not just "for preteens and Pedobears"; it's also for bored housewives who want to drive their daughters' middle-school nemeses to suicide. Durrr!

· Video 'splosion! First, bumper cars with real cars, otherwise known as one of the main reasons I don't live (or drive) up North:

And here's a highly overcaffeinated (and profane) TV producer using some highly inappropriate (and, from the looks of things, highly on-air) language toward MSNBC's Contessa Brewer, my new future TV newsanchor girlfriend now that Melissa Theuriau done had to go get herself murried and whatnot.

Whooooaaa, you f%$# with Contessa Brewer, you bring down the full force of the entire Hey Jenny Slater p.l.c. global conglomerate down upon you. Check yourself, bitch.

Poll dancing, week 15: Next stop, Orlandooooooo!

This is the last stop before the bowls, and then the final BlogPoll will be put out after the BCS national-championship game. Between now and then, we've got a Heisman ceremony (snore), a Georgia appearance in the Capital One Bowl (w00t), and somewhere in there an announcement by Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno about whether they'll be sticking around another year or saddling up like Shane and riding into the sunset, and by "sunset" I mean "NFL."

Games watched: First half of Virginia Tech-Boston College in the ACC title game, Florida-Alabama in the SEC title game, first half or so of Oklahoma-Missouri in the Big XII championship.

Waiting room: Brigham Young, Florida State, North Carolina, California, East Carolina.

Dropped out: Ball State (22).

· No movement at all in the top 17 except for Alabama dropping down two (and Oklahoma and Texas rising to fill the gap) and Ole Miss and Mizzou flip-flopping at 14/15. Yeah, Missouri probably deserves to fall more than one spot for the shellacking they took at the hands of the Sooners in the Big XII title game, but then everybody pretty much assumed that was going to happen anyway -- and I can't bring myself to put the Tigers below Georgia, knowing what Chase Daniel and his cast of characters would probably still be able to do to our Charmin-soft defense.

· Ball State . . . oh, Ball State. You had it right there in your hand, a 13-0 season, but then you started handing away the ball to whomever would take it. Most of those people turned out to play for Buffalo, and now you're MAC-title-less and out of the top 25. Let that be a lesson to you.

· Replacing the Cardinals in the rankings is your newly (re-)minted ACC champion, Virginia Tech; their victory bonks Boston College down five spots and lets a few other teams rise up a notch or two. That's pretty much all the action from this week.

As always, nothing's final until 11 tomorrow morning, so let me know if you'd recommend me doing something anatomically impossible any changes.

Lost? Confused? The Old School Plus One is here to solve everything.

Wow, that color scheme isn't the least bit biased, is it?

Back in the summer, as the 2008 college-football season approached and the debate over the BCS got hot once again, I proposed a system I called the "Old School Plus One" to replace the current BCS system. Basically, it'd work like this: The BCS and its roundabout computer formulas would be scrapped, along with all the rules governing which bowls were required to pick which teams in which order. All the bowls would be free to lock in the same conference champions they'd been associated with all throughout the pre-Coalition years (i.e. the Sugar Bowl takes the SEC champion, the Rose takes the Pac-10 and Big 10 winners, etc.), but as far as at-large teams it'd be every bowl for itself, free to invite any team from any conference as long as that team wasn't already committed to another bowl. All the bowls would be played, and then the AP sportswriters (or, if deemed necessary, a blue-ribbon Harris Poll-like collection of writers, coaches, ADs and the like) would submit another round of top-25 ballots. And the #1 and #2 team in that balloting would face off in a National Championship Game that would be held in a different city each year, with cities bidding on each year's game much like they now do for the Super Bowl. And the winner of that game would be the national champion for that year.

That explanation is probably more complicated than it needed to be, so by way of illustration I went back through the first few years of the BCS system and projected how the "Old School Plus One" would've played out in each of those situations. Sometimes the Old School Plus One led to a much better and more satisfying outcome, sometimes it was pretty much the same as what the BCS actually came up with, but rarely did it produce something worse.

Now, in 2008, we have another BCS controversy, one that might not be as bad as some of the others we've experienced over the years but one that still has a lot of people hacked off: Florida and Oklahoma are in the national-championship game, and Texas is on the outside looking in, getting locked out of the Big XII title game (and thus the national championship) despite having beaten Oklahoma in the regular season. Could the Old School Plus One sort this all out? I'll do the rundown of this year's situation pretty much like I did the others.

1. Florida (12-1) -- SEC champion
2. Texas (12-1) -- Big XII champion
3. Oklahoma (11-1)
4. Alabama (12-1)
5. Southern California (11-1) -- Pac-10 champion
6. Penn State (11-1) -- Big 10 champion
7. Utah (12-0) -- Mountain West champion
8. Texas Tech (11-1)
9. Boise State (12-0) -- WAC champion
10. Ohio State (10-2)
12. Cincinnati (11-2) -- Big East champion
21. Virginia Tech (9-4) -- ACC champion

Georgia, Southern California, Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama all spend varying amounts of time in the #1 spot over the course of the season, but in the week leading up to the conference-championship games, it's Alabama #1, Florida #2, Texas #3, and Oklahoma #4. However -- and things start to get tricky here, because this is where alternate reality under the Old School Plus One begins to diverge from the actual course of events -- with there being no such thing as "BCS rankings," the Big XII can't use that to sort out the three-way tie atop the South Division and determine who will represent the division in the conference-title game. So, presumably, they would pick the top-ranked team in the human poll -- which is Texas. The Longhorns handle Missouri in the Big XII title match and, with #1 Alabama having fallen to the Gators beforehand, the rankings on Sunday morning are what you see above.

Rose: #5 Southern California (11-1) vs. #6 Penn State (11-1)
The Rose is free to pick their traditional matchup of Pac-10 and Big 10 champions.

Sugar: #1 Florida (12-1) vs. #3 Oklahoma (11-1)
With Texas already locked into the Fiesta as Big XII champion, the Sugar jumps on third-ranked Oklahoma.

Fiesta: #2 Texas (12-1) vs. #4 Alabama (12-1)
The Fiesta picks a higher-ranked (and more tradition-rich) Alabama squad over Utah to go up against the Big XII champions.

Orange: #21 Virginia Tech (9-4) vs. #10 Ohio State (10-2)
This one's tricky. Would the Orange Bowl take a look at an undefeated, seventh-ranked Utah squad to fill the slot opposite the ACC champs? Possibly, but that's a long way for Ute fans to travel, and I think the lure of an unimpeachable brand name and a guaranteed sellout with the Buckeyes would be too much to pass up. That'd probably give them the nod over Texas Tech, too, though the Red Raiders have a better record and a higher ranking -- and with no BCS strictures in place to determine which bowl can invite which teams, theoretically the top bowls could invite as many Big XII teams as they wanted.

WHAT (I THINK) HAPPENS: With all due respect to Southern Cal and Penn State, there are really only two games that are likely to matter here in terms of the eventual national-title matchup, and those are the Sugar and Fiesta bowls. So with that in mind, I guess there are four possible outcomes.

Florida wins the Sugar, Texas wins the Fiesta: Both the SEC and Big XII champions hold serve in their bowl games, remain #1 and #2, and get matched up in the national-title game.

Florida wins the Sugar, Alabama wins the Fiesta: With Oklahoma and Texas both falling, Alabama moves up into the #2 slot and the national-championship game is a Florida-Alabama rematch.

Oklahoma wins the Sugar, Texas wins the Fiesta: Texas and Oklahoma likely move up into the #1/#2 slots in some combination, and the national championship is a rematch of the Red River Rivalry.

Oklahoma wins the Sugar, Alabama wins the Fiesta: Both conference champions fall, leaving the #1 and #2 spots to a team that wasn't included in their conference-title game but had a reasonable argument to be (Oklahoma) and a team that was included but lost a relatively close-fought contest (Alabama).

Obviously, the first of those four outcomes is the only one that would satisfy everyone. A rematch of a regular-season game would piss some people off, as would a matchup between two teams that didn't win their conference-championship games. But if, say, Florida and Alabama each knocked off top-4 opponents in their bowl games, then it'd be hard to deny that they're the best two teams in the country, rematch or no rematch, and deserving of inclusion in the national-title bout; same if Texas and Oklahoma won their bowl games. And while Gator or Longhorn fans might complain about having to play a team they'd already beaten before they could earn the national championship, the answer to that is fairly simple -- if you beat 'em before, you should be able to beat 'em again.

At any rate, the point of this system is not to avoid rematches, it's to ensure that a) fewer teams with a reasonable claim to a national-title berth get denied a fair shot, and b) the ultimate national-title-game pairing is determined by play on the field and not by a bunch of decimal points and absurdly complicated computer formulas. Which, warts and all, it would accomplish this year.

Obviously, though, it's still not perfect, and though no system would be perfect, there may be ways to make this one better. What do you think? Is there anything you'd change?

Friday, December 5

I'm a consultant and I'm here to help: the Auburn coaching search.

The college-football regular season is just about over and the bowls are still a couple weeks off, so we're in that Silly Season in which the coaching carousel is spinning like fricking crazy and schools are cravenly hunting for the next Great White Hope who will massively disappoint them a few years hence. Some, like Tennessee and Washington, have already made splashy hires; others, like Kansas State, have selected retreads so head-scratching that their athletic directors might as well have made the announcement wearing an "I'm Content To Go 6-6 Every Year And Cross My Fingers For The Independence Bowl" T-shirt. (And still others, like Clemson, fired their coach before the season was even half-over so that they'd get a two-month jump on everyone else to find their dream guy, only to end up with someone who goes by "Dabo.")

But some schools have yet to pull the trigger, and it is for those wayward programs that Hey Jenny Slater Consulting p.l.c. is humbly submitting a series of suggestions for their ideal head honchos. And yes, after witnessing a consultant's branding presentation at my job earlier this week, I've decided that the whole "consulting" gig is definitely something I want in on. Six figures to tell people stuff they already know for a couple hours at a time? Sign my ass up, brother.

Anyway, we'll start with a big-name SEC program that's near and dear to my heart, partly because I have to drive right by it on my way to visit my parents in Georgia, partly because I've dated a string of alumnae from this institution that defies explanation.

Auburn University

Previous coach: Tommy Tuberville.
Fired because: He apparently did some mescaline round about the first week of December 2007 and decided "I'm going to switch to a spread offense," a decision whose randomness and myopia rivaled the Bush administration's hard-on for Iraq in the wake of 9/11. Proceeded to go 5-7 (2-6 SEC) and bring his 6-0 run against Alabama to a thunderous, Phantom-jet-into-a-concrete-wall halt, sending a clear signal to the world that the Auburn program was preparing to bend over for the Tide for years to come.
What they need:
A splashy hire with enough celebrity oomph to steal a little bit of Nick Saban's thunder.
Someone's who's willing to work, at least temporarily, in the shadow of another name-brand program.
An innovator who will respect Auburn's run-first, defensive-minded tradition while modernizing it in a few critically needed areas.

HJS Consulting recommends:

Sarah Palin
An energetic, relatively young, outside-the-box leader who has made more out of being a second banana than perhaps anyone in the nation. Will immediately inject some excitement back into a struggling program; her off-the-charts Q rating amongst red-staters will immediately put Auburn back on a par with Alabama in terms of statewide, if not national, relevance. Strong on defense, or at least claims to be, and can deftly navigate the thorny tradition-vs.-modernization dilemma by publicly claiming to have said "thanks but no thanks" to the spread offense while secretly implementing a number of aspects of the spread in her offensive playbook. Also much hotter than Nick Saban.
Caveats: Will probably attempt to compensate for her near-total lack of experience by claiming that she's an offensive mastermind because she watched a New England Patriots game once. So-so at best in press conferences. A calculated risk for pursuing another higher-profile job after three seasons.

Next up: Mississippi State, who at this point will probably hand the office keys to the next able-bodied individual who crosses the Oktibbeha County line.