Wednesday, October 28

All the time, Mr. Blight. All. The. Time.

I don't think I've ever identified with a blog post on a more personal level than I did with this one over at Corn Nation, a Nebraska blog.

Boy, does this guy get me.

Comfortably numb: The Florida preview.

Hello, is there anybody in there? . . .

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida.

Last season: Won a bunch of games, lost to Ole Miss, Tebow's pledge, won a bunch more games (including Georgia), won the SEC title, won the national title, blah blah we're done here.

The season so far: Haven't lost yet, but haven't looked great either; failed to cover in three of their five SEC games to date, including back-to-back nailbiters against Arkansas (at home) and Mississippi State. After reclaiming the top spot in the AP poll this week, they sit at #1 in both major polls and the BCS standings.

Hate index, 1 being fried pork chops, 10 being fried swine flu: Nine, which is high, but not even as high as, say, other rivals of ours such as Tennessee or Georgia Tech. I mean, I'm tired of them beating us all the time, and I can't stand Urban Meyer (at least Spurrier did us the courtesy of having a personality, assface), but it's possible that the Gators (and Tebow in particular) have become such a constant fixture in the media that I don't even bother thinking about them that much on my own anymore. It's almost as if they're this semi-pro team that we've somehow bad-lucked our way into having to play every year, so I'll grit my teeth and grimace through this one week a year I have to worry about them on a personal level but just not spend a lot of energy on them otherwise. (God, reading back over that now, it's even more depressing on the page than it was when I was typing it.)

Associated hottie: UF alumna Jenn Brown, a former correspondent for "Inside the NFL" who now hosts "The Superstars" on ABC and "ESPN Road Trip" on ESPNU, is being touted as "the next Erin Andrews." But Florida is also the alma mater of the current Erin Andrews. Does this mean the Gators are building a monopoly on ridiculously hot, blond, sports-oriented TV personalities? OK, that's enough to get me actively pissed off. How much can one rival fan base be expected to endure, anyway?

What excites me: The Gators may hold the most recent national title and be headed at top speed toward the next one, but something about them has looked . . . off lately. They didn't score any more points against LSU than we did, for example, and whereas we quickly shrugged off a first-quarter barrage from Arkansas to hang 52 points on them, Florida needed a furious (and ref-assisted) fourth-quarter comeback just to squeak by the Hogs 23-20. Last week, the ordinarily reliable Tim Tebow, who'd only thrown two picks all season, managed to toss up two pick-sixes to a Mississippi State pass defense that came into the game ranked 76th in the country. Maybe we all underestimated how much the Gators would be affected by the departure of Percy Harvin to the NFL, maybe we underestimated how much they'd be affected by their switch in offensive coordinators, but either way, there's something wrong with the passing game -- it's ranked 80th in the country in terms of yardage, a good 31 spots behind Georgia -- and it hasn't shown any signs of getting solved over the past few weeks.

This may or may not mean anything at all to a Georgia team that looked unremittingly godawful in nearly every phase of the game against Tennessee, but there were some signs of life against Vanderbilt -- and even if it was only Vanderbilt, we beat them considerably worse than anyone else has managed to this season. Not only that, but we spent last weekend on a bye, which we also enjoyed before our win in Jacksonville two years ago. Finally, the Bulldogs are 7-1 since 1965 against defending national champions, which includes the Gators in both 1997 and '07. We may be 16-point underdogs to the Gators this week, but as I mentioned in my post for Dr. Saturday on this year's Cocktail Party, the 1997 was a twenty-point underdog to UF. So nothing's impossible, as big a mismatch as this game might look like on paper.

I prefer this paper, anyway.

What worries me: Other than punting, protecting the QB, and (occasionally) passing, Georgia just isn't very good at much of anything at the moment. We're second from the bottom in the SEC in both total offense and total defense, next-to-worst in pass defense (in terms of both efficiency and total yardage), and dead last in rushing offense. Florida's passing game may be struggling, but nobody whose secondary recently got lit up by Jonathan Crompton should be feeling too smug about that. And the one phase in which our defense has generally been competent (against the run) is poised to get severely tested by the Gators, who are averaging nearly 260 yards per game on the ground.

Even if we do succeed in corralling the Gator offense into a fourth straight mediocre performance, we're going to have to put some points on the board somehow. The common thread running through all three of our wins over Florida in the last 19 years is that our offense managed to crack the 30-point barrier each time; in the sixteen losses, our highest scoring output was 26 points, and we've averaged only 14. But points are incredibly hard to come by against this Florida defense. They're second in the nation with only 10 points allowed per game, and only one team they've faced (Arkansas) has even managed to make it to 20 against them. If Georgia even manages to make it to double digits in offensive points on Saturday -- which only one opponent, Tennessee of all teams, has managed to do all season -- that's almost a moral victory right there.

Player who needs to have a big game: QB Joe Cox. Our struggles with the running game are a secret to precisely no one at this point, so the game is going to be on the Ginger Ninja's shoulders, at least in the beginning -- and he's going to be up against the nation's best pass defense. So good luck with that, Joe. I know you've taken your lumps this season, but you want to go down in history as a Georgia legend, here's your chance. Hey, you were the one who threw the pass that scored our lone touchdown against the Gators last year! Just do that four or five more times on Saturday and we'll be golden.

What does it all mean?: Given that the last time I actually got to see Georgia in action was three weeks ago, when they got their asses handed to them in Knoxville, I've been strangely at peace about our impending march into the Valley of Death otherwise known as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. Precisely nobody is picking us to win this game, so unlike, say, last year, it will be very difficult for us to substantially disappoint anyone with our performance. As bad as we've looked for a good part of this season, Florida is the team that's been the subject of the "What's the Matter With . . . ?" editorials of late, and there's a case to be made that they don't even look as good right now as they did in the first part of last season, when they half-assed it against so-so opposition right up to the point where they needed Tebow's now-infamous "pledge" to turn things around. They're no more invincible now than they were then, and there's a part of me that thinks Georgia might just be capable of playing the Ole Miss spoiler role this time around. No, we're not a particularly good team right now, but neither was Ole Miss at the time -- their win in Gainesville was sandwiched between home losses to mediocre Vanderbilt and South Carolina teams -- so between the bye week and our excellent record against defending champs, it's almost enough to make a guy think we've got a shot.

But that's all intangible, hunchy, gut-feeling stuff, of course. The reality is that there are certain things a Georgia team has to do to beat Florida, if the last two decades are any indication, and there's not much reason to think this year's Dawgs are capable of doing them. For one thing, it's anyone's guess as to how we make it to the critical 30-point line. If you throw out the running game -- which I think you can pretty much do, given that the Gators have allowed only two teams to go over 100 yards on the ground against them this year, never mind individual rushers -- the burden shifts to Joe Cox, and more specifically offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who's going to have to throw some new wrinkles into the passing game. Three weeks ago, Tennessee almost completely neutralized A.J. Green as a deep threat without even double-covering him all that much, yet in spite of that, we barely even looked in the direction of Orson Charles or Aron White in the short passing game. Bobo's going to have to get them more involved, as well as continuing the involvement of guys like Caleb King out of the backfield like we did in the Vandy game, to present a worthwhile threat to the Florida defense. And then maybe, maybe, we can establish some kind of running game underneath that.

If we can accomplish that, then we can probably keep the game somewhat close, at least, in light of the struggles that the Gators have been experiencing on offense. Part of the reason for those struggles, obviously, is Florida's lack of a deep threat in the passing game, but looking at their stats over their last three games, it seems that another part of that is a lack of imagination on offensive coordinator Steve Addazio's part. Obviously Tebow can be counted on to dominate the stat sheets in most of the games in which he plays, but lately he's been dominating in terms of the plays that are called to begin with:


Even on designed running plays, there's a nearly 50-percent chance that Tebow's number is going to be called. Why the play-calling would be so single-minded when the Gators have a wealth of lightning-fast quarkbacks such as Jeff Demps, Brandon James, and Chris Rainey in the backfield, I have no idea, but Addazio's reluctance to rely on any of them does simplify things somewhat for our defense. Of course, as frustrated as Florida fans might be with Addazio's playcalling, I still have to assume he was smart enough to have watched some tape from the Tennessee-Georgia game, in which case he's discovered that Willie Martinez has no idea how to defend a well-executed play-action strategy. If the Gators decide to do that to us, then the game will be over in a hurry no matter how much of it ends up resting on Tebow's shoulders. But I'm going to try not to think about that right now.

The thing I can't just summarily block out of my mind is turnovers. Last year, in spite of the final score, we actually managed to stay pretty close to Florida on the stat sheet (and finished with more total yards than the Gators); what killed us was a -4 turnover margin, including three picks from Matt Stafford. I don't need to remind anyone just how much we've struggled with turnovers this year. We've had at least three turnovers, and finished behind in the final margin, against everyone except LSU and Vandy this year; Joe Cox has thrown at least one interception in every game. Even if we manage to keep things close in the early going, turnovers are going to be our undoing eventually. Florida actually hasn't been great in that category either -- they're -1 on the year after coughing up four fumbles to Arkansas -- but they've picked off 10 passes this year and are a virtual lock to snatch one or two from Cox on Saturday.

I can see the first half of this game unfolding in a fashion similar to the LSU game: Minimal production from the Georgia offense, yet we manage to stay in the game due to the Gators playing conservatively and settling for field goals where they should be scoring touchdowns. But I think they'll pull away in the second half due to a turnover on our part or a big Tebow play, and that's all she wrote. If I had to put money on it one way or the other, I'd bet on us covering the 16-point spread, but the Gators will still conclude the second decade of their awful, miserable, and inexplicable hex over us with a 17-3 record.

Is it bad that I'm barely even worked up over it at this point? That I'll settle for a close, valiantly played loss so that we can get on to other, winnable games? It is? Oh, well. Play me off, Pink Floyd.

If you're trash-talking: Then you're either very brave, very dumb, very drunk, or some combination of the three. Either way, there is no useful help I can offer you, other than to say go with God, son.

I will run up and down the street in front of my house wearing nothing but a Georgia flag wrapped about my nether regions if: Georgia wins, period. Ask me nicely and I might even do it without the flag. I think a victory on Saturday might merit something like that.

Tuesday, October 27

Poll dancing, week 8: Pardon our progress (and lateness).

Sorry for the delay in getting around to BlogPoll/SEC Power Poll matters; packing, you see. Anybody want to do this for me? (The packing, I mean; I can make uninformed snap judgments about football teams just fine on my own.)

Games watched: UTEP-Tulsa, Florida State-North Carolina, Alabama-Tennessee, Florida-Mississippi State, a little bit of LSU-Auburn.

The next five: Brigham Young, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Kansas, Michigan.

Dropped out: Arkansas (14), Texas Tech (17), Nebraska (19), Brigham Young (20), South Florida (21), South Carolina (22), Kansas (24).

· Alabama retains the top spot despite a much-closer-than-it-had-to-be outing against the Vols. Their overall body of work this season is still stronger than any of the other unbeatens', but Texas finally figured out how to stomp on an opponent's throat from the get-go rather than spotting them an entire half. If that continues, they'll be very close in Bama's rearview mirror.

· Rest of the top 10 is unchanged except for USC sliding down two spots after back-to-back close calls against Notre Dame and Oregon State.

· A lot of teams fall out of the top 25 this week for losses of varying degrees of embarrassment; South Carolina is the exception, but beating Vandy by only four at home is not my idea of a top-25 performance. I have to heap particular scorn onto the Arkansas Razorbacks, who made me look like an absolute fool for vaulting them into the top 15 on the basis of their performance against Florida. A hearty mea culpa to you commenters who warned me against doing such an idiotic thing, and an equally hearty fuck you to Bobby Petrino. Even when I say something positive about you, you screw me, you slimy, petty, two-faced waste of human skin.

· The replacements for the dropouts include Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cal, and Utah, all of whom probably jumped into the poll higher than they really needed to, but about whom you could also make a case that I've been undervaluing them for a few weeks now; Oklahoma, who proved they're not quite dead yet in a convincing win at Kansas; West Virginia, whose only loss so far has been to Auburn, back when Auburn was good; and (sigh) Notre Dame, even though this made me seriously consider doing otherwise. Everything I just said about Bobby Petrino also applies to Jimmy Clausen, which I doubt comes as a shock to any of you.

SEC Power Poll ballot follows:

1. Alabama -- For the first time all season, the Tide not only looked beatable but looked like they were fixing to get beat. The fact that they waited until the very end of the game to look like that means they get to hang on to the #1 spot, but their problems in the passing game don't appear to be going away anytime soon.

2. Florida -- Another drag-ass game against an inferior opponent. Dare I hope this habit continues in Jacksonville this weekend?

3. LSU -- Hanging out on the BCS fringes and gathering some steam. Alabama is not a lock to beat them at home next week.

4. Tennessee -- The box score doesn't lie: Crompton was 21-of-36 for 265 yards, one TD, and one pick against Alabama. Which means UT's surge over the last couple weeks may not be a fluke.

5. Ole Miss -- Terrific game from Snead in a game where I honestly thought he'd be back to struggling again.

6. Georgia -- I'd like to think they have a shot at beating the Gators this weekend, but my reasons (bye week, our record against defending national champs) are obviously based more on intangibles than anything related to on-the-field data.

7. South Carolina -- I'm still trying to figure out how the Gamecocks could have 431 total yards and no turnovers and still only beat Vandy 14-10.

8. Arkansas -- That's the thanks I get for showing confidence in you last week? Schmucks.

9. Kentucky -- Beginning to look like a M*A*S*H unit with all the starters who've gotten injured. Not a lock to beat Mississippi State this weekend.

10. Auburn -- Feels like their offense has regressed to 2008 form in little more than the blink of an eye. Not a good place to be with Ole Miss, UGA, and Bama still on the schedule.

11. Mississippi State -- How much tail do you suppose Johnthan Banks got in Starkville over the weekend? I don't know how the women roll in your neck of the woods, but around here, "Hey, baby, I had two pick-sixes against Tim Tebow" is cash money as a pickup line.

12. Vanderbilt -- Remind me why Bobby Johnson was in such a hurry to make Larry Smith the starter again?

Monday, October 26

Monday Morning Cage Match XX:
A very special 20th anniversary Cage Match in which I try to keep from having to pack up my apartment.

If my blogging schedule is a little spotty over the next few days, it's because I'm going to be spending most of this week packing up all the stuff in my apartment, moving it down to Columbus, and then unloading it into a storage unit. I had no idea how much I'd be dreading this until the time came to actually do it. It's been seven years since I've had to move anywhere, which is bad for two reasons: One, I've gotten that much more used to being planted in one place and not having to go anywhere, and two, I've had that much more time to accrue loads of crap that I don't even know why I have but still have to figure out what to do with. Maybe my job search really needs to be centering on careers such as "monk" or "backwoods loner who lives in a cabin and eschews the technological trappings of modern-day life." You know, like what the Unabomber did only without the killing and maiming people.

At any rate, while I've been in the midst of all this, I also managed to pick up some kind of illness last week, nothing serious and I'm feeling lots better now, though I did wonder if maybe I'd managed to pick up swine flu on the way back from Texas or something. Lord knows, I was around enough pork products at the Texas State Fair that if I were ever going to get swine flu, that'd be the logical place to do so. Anyway, being sick turned out to actually be a nice reprieve from the stress of moving -- I got to sleep all day and have people bring me aspirin and beverages without having to pack shit up in boxes and haul everything down two flights of stairs. It got me to thinking, could swine flu actually be preferable to having to move? And I know that's a lame-ass conceit for a Cage Match, but it's Monday morning and I'm looking for ways to procrastinate and not have to resume the packing-up process, so here you go, schmucks -- Moving vs. Swine Flu.


Swine flu
Early signsLosing one's job, rent going upBody aches, fatigue, upper respiratory congestion
WINNER: Swine flu
Recommended course of actionThrowing away a bunch of your useless shit and putting the rest into boxesStay home, drink plenty of fluids, and sleep
WINNER: Swine flu
Physical fatigueConsiderableConsiderable
What your friends say"Let me know if you need help packing anything up""Wow, I hope you feel better"
WINNER: Moving
What they mean"I'll help you if you call me and ask, but I'm really hoping you don't call me""Stay the hell away from me until you're no longer contagious, and probably three or four days after that, just in case"
WINNER: Moving
Approximate costAt least $500$10 worth of O.J. and aspirin and a few days off work
WINNER: Swine flu
End resultLiving with your parents
(OK, maybe that's just me)
Completely recovered without any long-term side effects
WINNER: Swine flu

FINAL SCORE: Swine flu 5, moving 3. So in the end, it really is better to get hit with swine flu than to have to move somewhere. Unless "somewhere" is "the Virgin Islands." Which, in my case, it clearly isn't.

Friday, October 23

The Friday Random Ten+5 bids farewell to the Magic City.

One week from today, the movers will be loading up my U-Haul truck and sending me on my way out of Birmingham for good. This move is not really by choice; I'd stay in the Salty 'Ham if I could, but the company that bought my apartment building back in the spring needs to have everybody out by the end of the month so that they can complete the massive renovation work they're doing, and without a job it's going to be kind of difficult to convince anyone else to rent me a place. So it's back to Columbus for (what I hope will be) a very brief period, crashing at Mom and Dad's and awaiting my next assignment, wherever that happens to be.

It occurred to me as I was boxing stuff up earlier this week just how much I'm going to miss Birmingham -- obviously I had to weather some unpleasantness there over the last few months, but I also made a whole bunch of really good friends through work, the state Democratic Party, the volunteer work that I did, and basically just by virtue of living in Five Points, where I got to know a whole bunch of people (often just by virtue of taking my dogs for a walk and having Jenna stroll into every open door she came across). There's a lot about the city itself I'm going to miss, too, so this week's +5 is a fond look back at Five Things I'm Going To Miss The Most About Living In The Salty 'Ham:

The Central Time Zone
Living in the Central Time Zone was kind of a pain in the ass when I'd be driving to Atlanta or Columbus and would have to add an hour to my travel time, but otherwise it was great: got to see all my shows earlier, football games included, and there's just something about getting to wake up on a Saturday, make some coffee, and tuck in for a couple hours of "College Gameday" while still in my jammies. (Between the time difference and the overwhelming availability of good barbecue, Birmingham is a lot more conducive to laziness than I ever realized. Maybe it's a good thing I'm getting out of there.)

Living within walking distance of my office (when I had one)
Fortunately, whatever lazy fat-assedness to which I was vulnerable was canceled out by the fact that I could get some exercise every day just by walking the six or seven blocks to my office -- only now I'm worried that I've become spoiled, because I'm dreading the prospect of actually having to get in a car to get to, and find a parking space at, the next place I work. I grant you, I'm kind of a keyed-up individual to begin with, but nothing makes the veins in my forehead bulge out faster than getting in a car and then having to sit completely still because nobody's going anywhere.

Chez Fon Fon
One of Frank Stitt's three Birmingham joints, and my favorite restaurant ever. Good food (that isn't even all that expensive, given the quality), friendly wait staff, talented bartenders, and hostesses who were always guaranteed to make a fuss over Champ and Jenna whenever I'd bring them by. Before I take off next week, I may have to buy an entire coconut cake from them and ration it out to myself over the next few months.

Cheap Southwest Airlines flights
I didn't get full exposure to the magic of Southwest until I'd been in Birmingham for several years, because, well, I never had the money to fly anywhere interesting. But I've now taken SWA on a number of football trips out west -- Tempe, L.A., Dallas -- and I've realized just how much I'm gonna miss having a low-fare carrier right in town willing to take me just about anyplace I want to go. Without charging me twenty bucks just to check a fucking bag. (Not that I'm bitter about that, Delta.)

The Blue Monkey, J. Clyde, Dave's, and all the other bars within walking/stumbling distance of my apartment
This might actually be more important than being able to walk to my office. To be able to indulge at so many fine draankin' establishments and never need to call a cab or risk a DUI charge just to get home -- well, that's kind of a big deal for a lush like myself. I'm gonna miss you, J. Clyde, and all the work you did to ensure that Alabamians are able to purchase decent beer. I'm gonna miss you, Dave's, and all the fine people-watching opportunities afforded by your patio. And I'm gonna miss you most of all, Blue Monkey, whose martinis and female clientele were both top-notch. I really hope my next job, wherever that happens to be, doesn't land me in a town where my best drinking option is to sit at the bar at Applebee's and hit on secretaries.

And now the Ten:

1. Bob Dylan, "Fourth Time Around"
2. Stina Nordenstam, "People Are Strange" (DJ Shadow mix)
3. Pet Shop Boys, "London" (Radical Blacklite edit)
4. Pete Heller, "Big Love"
5. Supréme NTM/Cut Killer, "Nique la Police"
6. Radiohead, "In Limbo"
7. John Coltrane, "Acknowledgement"
8. A Tribe Called Quest, "Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts)"
9. Eurythmics, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
10. Dino & Terry, "Croque Monsieur"

I don't expect many of y'all to have any reasons to be missing Birmingham at the moment, but if you do, feel free to throw 'em in the comments; your own Random Tens, as always, are welcome.

Thursday, October 22

Five for Slive podcast: What's the matter with the refs, Florida, Auburn, the BCS, and everything else?

It's my turn to host the Five for Slive podcast this week, in which Jerry Hinnen of War Blog Eagle and I discuss topics of note in the SEC. This week we get our licks in at SEC officiating, diagnose a couple of ailing offenses, and toss out a few upset opportunities.

MP3 File

Other places you can find me this week:

· At Dr. Saturday, sampling the tears of Ohio State fans and taking stock of an Oklahoma team that might be playing for its season this weekend against Kansas.

· At EDSBS, inflicting my usual strain of terrible gambling advice on an unsuspecting public. (Hey, not my problem. Y'all really should be "suspecting" by now.)

· On Twitter, where, wow, I've managed to come across as really angry the past couple days.

Tuesday, October 20

Dougie does Dallas.

Or, a Sociological Examination of Athletic Prowess, Eating Habits, and Preponderance of Certain Female Characteristics (viz. the Human Barbie Doll) in the Greater Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Between various stories I'd heard from friends who'd spent time in east Texas and my driving hatred for the Cowboys, I'd assumed Dallas would be this sun-blasted, paved-over suburban hellscape in which we'd go see the Texas-Oklahoma game, spend the rest of the weekend pinballing between various chain restaurants and overpriced bars, and then fly home. We did end up sampling the delights of the northwest Dallas Olive Garden (this has become an official Crazy Rivalry Game Road Trip tradition for reasons to obscure to waste your time with here), but the rest of our time in the city was way more fun than I'd anticipated.

I got into Dallas on Thursday afternoon, met up with Kristen at Love Field, and we set about exploring the various nether-reaches of the Dallas metro area. This took us to Cafe Brazil in Deep Ellum for a late lunch and then out to Grand Prairie, about halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, where sheer morbid curiosity drew me to the new Cowboys Stadium. I still hate the Cowboys and have no use for Jerry Jones other than the possibility that he and Dan Snyder might one day end up in a broken elevator at an NFL owners' meeting and proceed to murder one another, but I will say this: Like Sarah Palin and those massive gymnastics demonstrations put on by the North Korean government, Cowboys Stadium is impressive to look at, even if it does go against everything I believe in. When we drove by the old Texas Stadium in Irving on our way to pick up the third member of our party at DFW, it looked downright puny by comparison.

I'm fairly certain that at least one type of storm trooper in "The Empire Strikes Back" wore helmets that looked a lot like this.

This picture is probably in at least the 95th percentile of pictures that have ever been taken of me, and I'm a little pissed that it's got Cowboys shit in the background.

From there we had drinks at the W Hotel bar downtown, followed by a jaunt over to a dive called Lee Harvey's on the other side of downtown where we guzzled Jack-and-Cokes while "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" played on the jukebox and I felt more like I was in a Tarantino film than I've probably ever felt in my life. The next morning, we went to pick up Mark at DFW, and it was while we were walking through the Delta terminal that something completely random and awesome happened.

My phone rang and a number with a 540 area code showed up in the caller ID. I was worried it'd either be a wayward junk-debt collector or freeloading semi-friend asking me for money, but I answered it anyway, and it turned out to be a member of the search committee at Virginia Tech charged with hiring a new editor for their alumni magazine. Apparently he'd e-mailed me earlier in the week and I didn't see it because I'd been spending so much time either on the road or in the air; he wanted to do a preliminary phone interview but had a full schedule the following week, so we agreed to talk later on that afternoon. We picked up Mark, paid a visit to the Sixth Floor Museum (named for its location in the Texas Book Depository in downtown Dallas), and then headed back to the hotel to recharge, at which point I chatted on the phone with the gentleman from VT for 30 or 40 minutes. It went pretty well, I think, and I'll keep y'all posted on where that goes.

The infamous "grassy knoll" at Dealey Plaza, which I am hoping will not end up serving as a metaphor for my employment prospects.

Speaking of the hotel: There was, as the comments on the review had warned us, a strip club more or less in the parking lot (next door, actually, but there was no difference in practical terms). The hotel was much nicer than such complaints would lead one to believe; the strip club, though, was . . . strange. It was huge, and had the fake-stucco-and-colored-mood-lighting exterior that, as Kristen pointed out, is exclusive to strip clubs and (ironically enough) southern Protestant megachurches, but it turned out to be B.Y.O. with respect to alcohol and the female talent on a Thursday night was -- well, I would charitably describe it as "disinterested." All the dancers looked like they'd just popped a couple quaaludes, and let's just say that not everything's bigger in Texas (I'm referring here to boobs, of course). Though we did have the unique experience of a stripper using racial/ethnic humor to try and close the deal on a lap dance, which was definitely a new one for me. I'm a little offended that she didn't stop for even a minute to consider that I might have African-American or Hispanic blood, but then again the lighting wasn't good in there so maybe I should just give her the benefit of the doubt. At any rate, we left the establishment feeling enlightened by a new experience, yet very much discomfited at the same time.

That also pretty much sums up our experience sampling the culinary delights at the Texas State Fair, which surrounds the Cotton Bowl stadium and for which the Texas-Oklahoma game is more or less the grand finale each October. As Kristen pointed out in her Facebook photo essay of our trip, "In Texas, the question is not should we fry this. But how can we fry this." I couldn't even begin to list all the food items we observed for sale in a fried, barbecued, or otherwise innovatively larded state; I'll simply run down the fried items I personally sampled, reviewing each one in order of preference from "that was awesome" to "I'm not sure what I just put in my mouth":

Fried S'More
Other than the "mushy" graham-cracker section, reviewers had universal praise for this "sweet, gooey" confection, which "literally bursts with marshmallow fluff" and adds a "melty," "delicious" layer of chocolate to boot. The "crisp outer shell" adds another "layer of awesomeness" to this "brilliant" take on a beloved campfire treat.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes may no longer be exotic, but the crowd gathered at the Gina's Restaurant booth in the Coca-Cola Food Court waited for them "like teenaged girls waiting for the Beatles to get off the plane in New York in 1964." The food didn't disappoint: From the "thick," "crispy" breading to the "deliciously seasoned" tomatoes inside, Gina's offering "sets a new bar" for fried-tomato excellence.

Fried Nutter Butter
While the Nutter Butter inside was "rendered rather mushy" by the frying process, tasters praised the "crispy" shell and the way the deep-frying "didn't overpower" the "essential peanutty/chocolatey goodness." Be careful, though, as the goo inside may be "hot enough to melt your teeth."

Fried Butter
"If you love the taste of pure butter, you'll love these," said our diners, who confessed to being "not exactly sure" how these "salty-sweet dough balls" were created but called the "unmistakable" blast of butter flavor "enough to make your hair stand on end." They were divided, however, on whether the "decadent" taste was worth the "feeling that your arteries are hardening" even as the butter-"saturated" dough "slides down your throat like a topless Spring Breaker on a K-Y slip 'n' slide."

Fried Coke
If fried butter was a mystery, then fried Coca-Cola was "downright confounding," as the dish appeared to be nothing more than "mysteriously flavored dough balls" soaking in "Coke syrup" or "some other sugary liquid substance." Perhaps the "dough balls themselves are made with Coke syrup," one sampler posited, but either way, the overall taste is reminiscent of "when you'd be almost finished with lunch in elementary school" and would "mix your leftover food and beverages together" just to "experiment." One tester said she "devoured every bite"; another said he was "frankly terrified" of the "concoction."

In between our adventure deep in the gummy, wheezing, sclerotic heart of Texas, there was a football game, in which I noticed four things:

1. Texas is far from the best team in the country, if what we witnessed Saturday afternoon was accurate. Maybe it was the amped-up Oklahoma defense, maybe it was nervousness induced by the hype surrounding the game, but the Longhorn offense was just as likely to give up a sack or incur an exasperating penalty on a high-school-caliber mental error as they were to break a big play. Perhaps more likely, actually, as Colt McCoy averaged a measly 3.3 yards on 39 passing attempts. If the 'Horns' offense can rise to the level of their aggressive D, this is a national-title-caliber team; if they keep starting off slow like they did against OU (and several teams before that), they've got a loss waiting for them somewhere down the stretch this season. (Be that as it may, however, they easily established themselves as the superior trash-talkers in Dallas over the weekend.)

2. Oklahoma is even further away from the best team in the country, which might have been true even before a crushing sack re-aggravated the shoulder injury Sam Bradford suffered in the opener against BYU and knocked him out of the game. The Sooner defense is every bit Texas's equal, maybe even a little better, but their re-jiggered offensive line paved the way for a miserable -16 yards rushing and frequently left Landry Jones to run for his life in the backfield. The defense alone will keep the Sooners in every remaining game they play, but unless the offense grows up in a hurry and overcomes the losses of Bradford and star tight end Jermaine Gresham, they may not actually win enough of those games to earn a decent bowl bid -- or, potentially, any bowl bid at all.

3. There is a fine line between "gorgeous day for football" -- which, as you can see from the photo above, last Saturday definitely was -- and "skin cancer risk." I crossed this line to the point where even the TSA agents at Love Field on Sunday were going, "You must've been at the game yesterday, huh? Man, you got SCORCHED."

4. Barring some sort of hardship exemption or letter of recommendation from one's Congressperson, being brunette evidently disqualifies female applicants from admission to the University of Texas. The brunettes all go to Oklahoma -- where, if OU's RRS contingent was any indication, they are admitted almost as grudgingly -- or, as Dawgs Online informs me, to SMU. And there is evidently a human-genetics laboratory somewhere in the DFW metroplex (perhaps funded by UT?) that has succeeded in creating life-sized, human, walking, talking Barbie dolls, because everywhere we went Dallas was stacked to the rafters with tall, thin, tanned blondes packing suspiciously perky breasts. Upon finding that much of Dallas was in fact tree-lined and attractive, I found myself thinking, "I could probably even live here"; upon seeing the range of female talent on display, I found myself thinking, "There's no way I could ever live here, because there'd be no end to the trouble to which I could subject myself around these Fembots."

As it turned out, the Red River Shootout was not the last football game we got to see in person that day. Thursday evening, during our random exploration of Dallas proper, we'd taken a quick spin through the Southern Methodist campus and found the Navy football 18-wheeler parked by the football stadium -- the Midshipmen were in town to face the Mustangs. Kristen, who used to live in Annapolis, asked if we could go to that game as well, and after a short beer/burger fill-up at Snuffer's, we did. Entry to the game was every bit as cheap and simple as you'd expect for a program that's had only one winning season since getting the NCAA death penalty in the late '80s, but the overall futility of the program was not enough to keep the game from being blessed with a three-F/A-18 flyover before kickoff (the RRS only got two), nor did it scare off some very famous guests:

Yup, that's Bush 43 his ownself, who probably would've been perfectly content with a crisp evening of brush-cutting had his wife, an SMU alumna, not dragged him up to Big D. Crushing NCAA penalties notwithstanding, SMU still appears to be the prime drop-off spot for the children of conservative Texas bluebloods who make more money than you or I will ever see in our lifetimes; I have no doubt that every one of the smoking-hot (and, indeed, overwhelmingly brunette) coeds in attendance left the game in an expensive foreign car and will likely leave SMU with a husband who has a trust fund and a country-club membership.

We were treated to another close game, which, unlike the Red River Shootout, came as a surprise -- the Mustangs had some success early in corralling Navy's triple-option attack and went into the halftime break up 21-7, but Navy either adjusted at halftime or just wore SMU down physically, because they stormed back to take a lead before the Mustangs tied it with a late score and sent the game into overtime. SMU proceeded to execute about the saddest overtime series I've ever seen -- rush for 1-yard loss, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, miss a 43-yard field goal -- and Navy had little trouble kicking an FG on their possession and trotting off with a win. Still, I give Southern Meth credit for a) the female scenery and b) having Coke Zero at the concession stand, both of which put them a cut above most gameday experiences.

All in all, it was a great experience, and I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to the people of Dallas for showing us more generosity, courtesy, and good times than I could've ever expected from a bunch of fucking Cowboys fans. I tip my woefully undersized hat to you all and smear another dose of steroid cream onto my disgustingly sun-shriveled face in your name. And I look forward to your future advances in the fields of deep-frying and female-humanoid development -- both of which, as you know, are near and dear to my heart.

Hook'em, Big D.

And now please excuse me while I retire to the bathroom to peel the rest of my face off.

Monday, October 19

Poll dancing, week 7: Alabama wants a berth in the national-title game . . . anybody else? Anybody?

We're halfway through the season, and if teams got performance reviews at the halfway mark, most of the top teams would be getting "Not applying themselves, could do better" on their evaluation. This past week, Texas did everything it could to keep a fading Oklahoma squad in the game; Florida did the same with Arkansas, in the Swamp, no less; and USC let Notre Dame play them closer then they have at any point since 2005. Only Alabama, who had some problems on offense but were successful in simply pulling Mark Ingram's string and letting him go, looked the part of a true national-title contender on Saturday -- thus they remain #1.

Games watched: Boise State-Tulsa, parts of Cincinnati-South Florida, Texas-Oklahoma, the second halves of USC-Notre Dame and Florida-Arkansas, Navy-Southern Methodist.

The next five: Pittsburgh, Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma, Notre Dame.

Dropped out: Oklahoma (10), Auburn (25).

· Texas and Florida flip-flop at the 2/3 spots, while Cincinnati moves up into the top five thanks to a closer-than-it-should-have-been performance by Southern Cal and an Atlanta face-plant by Virginia Tech. Are the Bearcats really better than those two name-brand teams? Maybe, maybe not, but they did a much better job last week of looking like they wanted it, at least.

· Two big risers this week: Georgia Tech, who won, and Arkansas, who didn't. Here's my rationale for moving the Hogs into the top 15: One, the refs did an even worse job in the Florida-Arkansas game than they did with Georgia and LSU. Two, the Razorback defense does indeed look legit after impressive performances against progressively better teams over the last three weeks. Third, even though it looks like Arkansas's powerful offense got solidly corralled by the Gators, that was the most points the Gator defense has given up all season (actually, the most they'd given up since last October). It still feels weird jumping them that much after a loss, but I've got confidence that Arkansas has figured it out, and at the very least I think we'll see them in a bowl game this year.

· I debated dropping Ohio State right out of the poll after their horrendous performance against Purdue, and will gladly accept nominations for teams that should be occupying the #25 spot in the Buckeyes' place. Ohio State has gone through offensive slumps before -- you could make the case that they've been in one since the 2006 national-title game -- but they could always depend on the running game and defense to power them to a win. Well, now that the running game has disappeared as well, even the Buckeye defense can no longer win games on its own.

· Oklahoma does finally drop out of the poll after a few weeks of cajoling from various commenters. Even now, there's a part of me that still wants to believe the Sooners are better than the product they've put on the field the last few weeks, but the results on the field just don't bear that out: Their record is worse than Georgia's right now, and their wins (Idaho State, Tulsa, and Baylor) are much less impressive as well. The Sooner defense is outstanding, but if what we saw from Landry Jones in Dallas over the weekend is any indication, there's just not enough juice on this offense to get OU any higher than 7-5.

· Auburn joins the Sooners in offensively challenged, just-outside-the-top-25 purgatory; they are replaced by Brigham Young (I was still dinging them for their awful performance against Florida State last month, but it's looking more and more like that was just an ugly fluke) and Oregon State, because somebody had to be #23.

SEC Power Poll ballot follows:

1. Alabama -- With Tebow and McCoy underwhelming and Bradford injured yet again, you think maybe, just maybe, it's time for Mark Ingram to start getting some Heisman buzz?

2. Florida -- Surely they can't skate like this through the rest of the regular season, and yet . . . looking at the rest of their schedule, maybe they can.

3. Arkansas -- Egad. They have figured out how to play defense. Unfortunately, they haven't figured out the fine art of paying off refs.

4. LSU -- Is it a sign of LSU's lingering irrelevance to the national-title race that I had to go back and check just now to see whether they actually played last weekend?

5. South Carolina -- Never really out of it against Alabama, but they were never really in it, either.

6. Auburn -- An entire conference breathes a sigh of relief as it appears that, at long last, the Tigers' offense has been figured out.

7. Tennessee -- Alabama's defense will determine whether Crompton's breakout game was the start of a trend or just a mirage, and I honestly can't figure out which one I should root for.

8. Georgia -- OK, sure, they were playing the undisputed worst team in the conference, but they put away the 'Dores a lot more soundly than anyone else has so far. JUST LET US HAVE THIS. PLEASE.

9. Kentucky -- The Wildcats have exactly nobody who can throw the ball but ran it all over Auburn. Maybe Rich Brooks should contact Paul Johnson for pointers on running the triple-option?

10. Ole Miss -- I hope nobody in Oxford is getting the idea that thrashing UAB's defense means Jevan Snead is back.

11. Mississippi State -- Nice job of avoiding the trap at MTSU as Mullen prepares to go up against his old team. Is it safe to say that everyone in America outside the UF fan base will be rooting for MSU this weekend?

12. Vanderbilt -- If it looks like a 2-10 team and smells like a 2-10 team . . . Vandy can defend the pass pretty well, and that's about it.

Monday Morning Cage Match XIX:
Bubbles, balloons, and buffoons.

By now we've all heard about the little boy whom everyone thought had flown halfway across Colorado in a homemade balloon, only to find that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by the kid's cravenly self-promoting dicklick of a father. Thus the "Balloon Boy" is almost sure to become a punchline or "Jeopardy!" answer lasting for the next, oh, seven minutes. But Balloon Boy's got to get in line behind a bunch of other kids who've been confined to similarly ungainly contraptions, and I can think of one right off the bat from a much-beloved "Seinfeld" episode. Get ready, America, for the brawl for it all -- Balloon Boy vs. Bubble Boy.

Balloon Boy
(Falcon Heene)

Bubble Boy
(Donald Sanger)
Father's occupationReality-TV whoreYoo-Hoo truck driver
WINNER: Bubble Boy
Mortal perilRunaway homemade helium balloon flying as high as 15,000 feetImmune deficiency in his blood
WINNER: Balloon Boy
Eponymous confinement most resemblesA flying Jiffy Pop tinA clear plastic shower curtain
WINNER: Balloon Boy
First sign that something might be amissDad called local TV stations before he called 911Ordered George Costanza's girlfriend to take her top off
WINNER: Bubble Boy
Instrument of final downfallLarry KingMisprinted Trivial Pursuit card
WINNER: Balloon Boy
Lasting quote"You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.""It doesn't matter. It's MOORS! THERE'S NO 'MOOPS'!"
WINNER: Bubble Boy
What have we learned?Don't exploit children to promote your own fakakta endeavorsDon't try to take advantage of people at board games
WINNER: Balloon Boy

FINAL SCORE: Balloon Boy 4, Bubble Boy 3. I guess there's more romance to a giant fucking Jiffy-Pop-looking silver balloon than a plastic bubble.

Friday, October 16

Mules, turnip, go: The Vanderbilt preview.

Here is your prize . . . now let's have a clean fight and come out swinging!

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee.

Last season: Rode an opportunistic defense (and more than a little luck) to an improbable 5-0 start, including wins over South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Auburn; at the height of that streak they were ranked in the top 15 in both polls. Ran out of gas and won only one game the rest of the way, but it was enough to earn a bid to the Music City Bowl, where they stunned Boston College 16-14. Finished the season 7-6 (4-4 SEC), unranked but a solid third in the SEC East.

The season so far: Luck seems to have deserted the Commodores in 2009, along with anything else that went right for the team last year: They're 2-4, with their only wins coming over Rice, one of the few remaining winless D-IA teams, and Western Carolina, one of the few remaining winless IAA teams. Against SEC opponents, they've scored an average of 6.33 points per game, and last week they managed to lose to Army (and failed to score an offensive touchdown in the process). Current record: 2-4, 0-3 SEC.

Hate index, 1 being the St. Louis Rams under ordinary circumstances, 10 being the St. Louis Rams partially owned by Rush Limbaugh: One and a half. Having any stronger beef than that with Vanderbilt is probably a sign of severe anger-management issues. In the rare instances when the Commodores have beaten us, I've been more angry at us than I've been at them.

Associated hottie: Bettie Page was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" in her high-school class and went on to earn a degree from Vanderbilt's Peabody College of Education, but opted not to pursue a teaching career because, as she put it, "I couldn't control my students, especially the boys." So, what, they were just supposed to control themselves?

What excites me: Vanderbilt just isn't very good at much of anything at the moment. They're particularly bad at throwing the ball -- Larry Smith is dead last in the conference in pass efficiency and doesn't even crack the country's top 100 overall -- and their more-or-less strength on offense, rushing, matches right up against the one thing we've been fairly consistently good at on defense. Meanwhile, their run defense has allowed an average of more than 200 yards per game to offensively challenged Mississippi State, Rice, and Army; even our creaking ground game might be able to make some progress against them on Saturday.

Other things the Commodores aren't particularly good at: protecting the quarterback, with 14 sacks allowed so far this season, punting, or punt returns. Vandy's averaging only 3.63 yards per punt return so far this year, with means that with Drew Butler continuing to pin them deep at every opportunity, we should be able to stick the 'Dores with some consistently bad field position that their offense just doesn't have the playmakers to overcome.

I understand this is a game where tackles are, by definition, going to happen, but I'd appreciate it if our offense could postpone that until after we've gained, I don't know, five or six yards.

What worries me: Don't know if you noticed, but Georgia isn't very good at much of anything at the moment, either, at least if the Tennessee game is any indication. In terms of total yardage, for example, Vandy's actually better than we are right now (336 yards per game versus 324), and anyone who thinks Larry Smith will be a sitting duck on Saturday needs only look back to Jonathan Crompton's performance last week to see just how good our godawful pass defense is capable of making him look. If Willie Martinez is incapable of finding a way to keep our defensive backs within 10 yards of Vandy's receivers -- and there's virtually nothing in the past month and a half to suggest that he's figured this out -- then Smith is most assuredly a risk to lace a couple medium-to-long balls past our secondary and keep Vandy in the game.

On the other side of the ball, Joe Cox had his worst passing day ever against Tennessee (19-of-34 for 146 yards, two picks, and no TDs), and he's going to have to get back on track against the nation's sixth-best pass defense in terms of opponent efficiency (second-best in terms of yardage). By almost completely taking away the long ball last week, Tennessee's defense effectively neutered A.J. Green -- the first team all year to have done so -- and, just for good measure, A.J. dropped a pass for what felt like the first time in the history of ever. As long as teams feel free to ignore our running game -- and we've given them hardly any reason to do otherwise -- Cox is going to face an uphill battle.

Then there are all the continuing frustrations we've faced for pretty much the entirety of the situation, which remain in effect for this week unless someone steps up to prove differently. We're still not covering kickoffs worth a flip; guess what, Vandy's averaging more than 24 yards per return, not that established excellence in returning kickoffs has been a prerequisite for making us look foolish. After a glimmer of hope against LSU, we returned to our turnover-happy ways in Knoxville; guess what, Vandy's #22 in the nation in turnover margin at +0.83 per game. In past years, given our usual strengths, we could count on even a subpar effort being enough against the Commodores. This year, it looks like even our average game might not be enough to convincingly get us over the top.

Player who needs to have a big game: Time for another cop-out: Everybody. There's not a single player on this team who can afford not to have a big game. The offensive line has to block better to open up holes for the running game, and the running backs have to hit them, or Joe Cox is a sitting duck. The receivers, obviously, have to catch those passes, and Cox needs to stop heaving up picks when he doesn't know where else to put the ball. The defense . . . well, they've all got to improve by leaps and bounds. And the coaching staff has to get up off their asses and start lighting fires under people. It should be plainly obvious that we're faltering in nearly every phase of the game, and there's not a single player on the squad who can afford to think that they can't get any better after the debacle in Knoxville.

What does it all mean?: Over the past week, I've seen what I can only assume are some of the more optimistic elements of Bulldog Nation posit that maybe last Saturday's humiliation at Neyland Stadium was only an analogue to the 2007 loss, in which we headed up to Knoxville to face a team we should've handled, collapsed in specific phases of the game where we should've dominated, and got humiliated on a national scale. The more optimistic fans see what followed that game in the latter half of the 2007 season and express hope that maybe a similar resurrection is on tap for this year's struggling team.

Make no mistake, I would love an outcome like that -- I'd pay large sums of money for it, in fact, and might even offer myself or my loved ones up for some particularly degrading sexual favors -- but that's obviously the absolute best-case scenario at this point. And even that best-case scenario, if it is to be accurately recreated from two years ago, involves going up to Nashville and playing an ass-ugly game in which we're fortunate to escape Vandy by the very skin of our teeth. (Hope you're keeping that leg fresh, Blair Walsh.)

But an ugly game is something we should probably be preparing ourselves for anyway. I earned some compliments for a comment I made in a recent SEC Power Poll ballot comparing Vandy to a rack of ribs: You know you're going to devour them, but you're not going to look good doing it, and you're probably going to feel lousy afterward. Despite their general futility against SEC competition so far, Vandy has at least done a good job of making their opponents look bad even while they're winning -- LSU, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss all beat the Commodores by at least two scores but had plug-ugly offensive performances of their own. Vandy's defense is good enough to make us look bad; that, combined with another performance from our defense as awful as last week's, is enough to lose this game for us, no matter how bad we might think the Commodores are.

For the record, no, I don't think our defense can possibly play that poorly two weeks in a row, particularly now that Willie Martinez has every reason to think he's coaching for his job at this point. But it can no longer be denied that a solid blueprint has been provided for defeating our pass defense. Stephen Garcia, Jordan Jefferson, and now Jonathan Crompton -- none of whom were regarded as anything special, the last of whom was regarded as a near-legendary bust -- all managed to have career days against us by pecking us to death with short-to-medium passes and being content to move the ball down the field eight or ten yards at a time. Larry Smith is not a great quarterback, or even a good one, but if Martinez can't figure how to get a defensive back within eight yards of any of Smith's receivers at the time the ball is thrown, then we might as well do all our kickoffs on-sides, because having our defense on the field at all just won't be a good idea.

On the other side of the ball, I can't get excited about our prospects for scoring a lot of points, as our continued ineffectiveness in the running game gives opposing defenses the green light to go charging after Joe Cox as much as they possibly can. Vandy's pass defense is even stouter than most, so if they do the logical thing and double-cover A.J. Green -- clearly the linchpin to our passing game, as last week proved -- then we're going to have to throw it underneath and be content to nickel-and-dime our way down the field. We might've been able to do that last week if Orson Charles and Aron White had been involved in the game more, but Mike Bobo seemed to completely forget they were even on the roster. A general lack of awareness of how our talent is actually performing on the field seems to have become a frustrating trademark of our coaching staff this season, and that's got to change. Playmakers like Charles and White have to be involved; on defense, we need to bite the bullet, throw seniority out the window, and give guys who are producing (Bacarri Rambo, for example) a shot in place of guys who aren't. I would hope that this message is finally getting through to the coaches and shaking up some of what has been allowed to stagnate in terms of personnel decisions and play-calling, but I won't be truly confident until I see it on the field.

Come on, even his name is awesome. Why is this kid still standing in line for playing time?

We do have an ace in the hole, though, on special teams (except for kickoff coverage, of course). Brandon Boykin has been spectacular on kickoff returns; Drew Butler has been even more so on punts, and between that and Vandy's ineffectiveness in the punt-return game, we should be able to hold serve in the field-position battle for pretty much the entirety of this game. And if it comes down to a last-minute field goal like the '07 game did, Blair Walsh has been a money kicker in whom we should have the utmost confidence.

But the big, looming intangible in this game is our team's crisis of confidence, which is even more acute now than it was in the wake of the 2007 disaster against Tennessee. At least in that game we had some tangible evidence of some things we were good at but just hadn't been good at in Knoxville; this year we've done nothing consistently enough to be able to call it a fallback. The coaches' attitudes are inscrutable, and the players are obviously hurting. And just like two years ago, there is unsettling evidence that we're not taking the magnitude of our recent failings as seriously as we ought to be, at least in terms of practicing up and getting better at what we're not good at.

If our coaches do as good a job of that as they should do -- as we're paying them to do -- then we win this game, not in a blowout, but solidly enough to regain a little confidence. As it stands now, though, I see this being an ugly game regardless. My hunch is that we can't possibly let two mediocre QBs murder us two weeks in a row, but even if our defense holds up against Larry Smith and the Commodores, I don't see how our offense improves overnight -- the run-blocking issues we're dealing with aren't the kind that gets solved with a wave of a magic wand, and that's going to keep Joe Cox from being able to do anything heroic even with A.J. Green on the field. I think either one of these teams will be lucky to make it to 20 points, and while Georgia, even after last week, is the better team here, I just don't see them winning by any more than three or four points.

As postgame emotions go, "relief" is not my personal favorite, but it's better than many of the alternatives.

I'll take it, though. We need to win badly enough that we can't get greedy about final scores at this point. The one thing I am going to get greedy about is my hope that we win this one because we're the better team and not because we get lucky. Guys, there's no point in waiting around for one of your teammates to pull that magical game-changing play out of his ass. Make that play yourselves, and keep making them until we win this thing.

If you're trash-talking: Then you obviously have no sense of shame, because no fan who watched his/her team get blown off the field as comprehensively as we got blown off the field against Tennessee last week has any business trash-talking anybody ("anybody" including Vanderbilt, the ACC, pretty much all of Division I, and quite a few high-school teams). If you meet that rare Commodore fan who's truly intent on busting your balls about something, remind him/her that Vandy has only beaten us four times in the last half-century, thus making a Commodore win in this series an even less frequent occurrence than the U.S. Census, and leave it at that.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment wearing nothing but a Georgia flag wrapped about my nether regions if: Georgia covers the spread, which last I heard was up to about eight points or so. Even in the few wins we've had this season, we haven't exactly won convincingly; a win by a couple of scores would at least be convincing in the sense that it might convince some people we're not as utterly helpless as we looked last week. Whatever happens, let's just please not do any dancing on the midfield logo, thanks.

The Friday Random Ten+5 dishes out Halloween advice (with sexy results!*).

As of today, Halloween is but two weeks and change away, and this is the time I can never help but reflect on how much my attitude toward Halloween has changed over the years. Once I became a teenager, i.e. old enough that candy was no longer one of my prime motivations for doing anything, I lost nearly all of my interest in the holiday; I was enough of a Good Guy at that point that bag-snatching, house-TPing, and the usual seasonal mischief didn't have all that much appeal for me. I pretty much ignored the holiday completely for a long time, and it wasn't until I'd been out of college for a few years that I finally caught up with the rest of my gender and discovered the real reason Halloween was worth celebrating in spite of the annoying children, rampant vandalism, and potential for dramatically accelerated tooth decay: girls making it a point to go out in public looking as slutty as possible.

Let me tell you, my eyes were opened, and a lot of it probably had to do with living right smack in the middle of one of Birmingham's busier bar districts, where the female patrons don't always bother even paying lip service to the concept of a "costume" as you and I know it. The last few Halloweens in a row, I've been able to sit out on the patio at Dave's Pub down the street from my apartment and practically set my watch by the moment a trio of college-aged girls stumble across 20th Street in their underwear. Not that I don't admire their bravery, but there are ways to wear an actual costume (or at least an approximation of one) while still maintaining the sluttiness that we've come to expect from October 31st. Sometimes these methods are absolutely horrible -- the words "sexy" and "clown" should never so much as appear in the same sentence, and I think it's reasonable to expect anyone who joins them together to register as a sex offender -- but some methods can be suitably trashy while being properly respectful of the true spirit of Halloween and showing some true creativity in the bargain. So on that note, this week's +5 is Five Suggestions For Creatively Slutty Halloween Costumes:

Sarah Palin
Yes, Palin is a willfully incurious individual who would've made an awful vice-president and who would make an even worse president, but like the new Cowboys Stadium and those 100,000-strong, stadium-wide gymnastics demonstrations they put on in North Korea for Kim Jong-Il's birthday, she's not bad to look at, even if she does go against everything I stand for. Extra points here for an accurate "you betcha" or "meeeaverick" in your speech; a particularly short skirt; or if you can borrow your friend's Alaskan husky and walk it around with you wherever you go.

NFL cheerleader
Many NFL cheer squads are known for wearing rather complex, architecturally gifted uniforms; the San Diego Charger Girls, extolled hither and yon on this blog, are a prime example of this. However, an increasing number of teams are experimenting with the deceptively simple combination of jersey (or jersey-like-apparel) and hot pants. This is a trend I have no problem with, and it makes costuming-up a cinch for the ladies. Just grab a jersey out of your boyfriend's closet (or your own closet, if you're super-awesome like that and can bitch about the underperformance of your fantasy team with the best of us), throw on a pair of inappropriately short shorts and a pair of boots, and blammo, you're ready to hit the town and advertise your favorite team in the process. (For a higher degree of difficulty, "USC Song Girl" requires some sewing skills but is no less awesome.)

"Baywatch" lifeguard
Another one that's a lot easier than it might sound. Just find a red one-piece bathing suit that's a size or two too small, combine it with your most negligible acting skills, and you're ready to go. Dicey in cold climates, but hey, those are the sacrifices we have to make. It was chilly in Birmingham last year, too, but that didn't stop girls from lining up outside Club Uranus looking like hookers, and yes, there really was a bar down the street from me called that.

Hooters girl
Yes, this is something I clearly have a weakness for, but when you get right down to it, this is an institution that has to be respected for knowing exactly what they're selling (hint: it isn't the wings) and selling it better and more thoroughly than anyone. You've got options here -- the standard Hooters outfit, the black Hooters outfit, the camo outfit for salute-the-military promos, you name it. Just make sure you get the tank top three or four sizes smaller than you would ever actually wear such a garment. That's an important part of the ensemble.

Victoria's Secret angel
This one might actually be the easiest option of all: Just go through your dresser and pick out your classiest (or, depending on your frame of reference, least embarrassing) pair of undies; head down to the costume shop and buy a pair of angel wings; and ta-daaa, you will not have to pay for your own drinks until November 2.

No, no, I'm just happy to help.

The Ten:

1. Dimitri from Paris, "Un World Mysteriouse"
2. 3rd Bass, "Episode #3"
3. Taucher, "No Need to Ask Baby"
4. Steven Wright, "Home of Rock"
5. R.E.M., "What's the Frequency, Kenneth"
6. Air, "Kelly Watch the Stars"
7. Pet Shop Boys, "Discoteca"
8. Flight of the Conchords, "Ladies of the World"
9. U.N.K.L.E., "I Need Something Stronger"
10. Depeche Mode, "Personal Jesus"

Your turn -- throw your Random Tens in the comments, along with your sartorial recommendations for Halloween. This goes for you women out there, too, if you have any costume suggestions for us guys. No "Incredibly Good-Looking, Funny Guy Whom Men Want To Be And Women Want To Be With" suggestions, though. I've gone as that like the last six or seven years in a row, and I'm looking to branch out a little.

* Apologies for shamelessly stealing both the title of Ian's possibly late, unequivocally great blog and the inspiration for same, but it was too good not to pass up.