The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Big Weekend In Sports

There are lots of big sporting events going on this weekend and I’ll try to give you some insight into what’s going to happen:

Louisiana Tech at Miami
Ryan Moats gets his first chance to turn himself into a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this weekend, when he goes up against the Miami defense, which last week, against Florida State, looked to be as fierce of a defense as might be seen anywhere in the country this year.

It’s unlikely that Moats will pile up the yardage needed to impress folks not familiar with Louisiana Tech this weekend, particularly if the Canes jump out to an early lead and the Bulldogs are forced to throw the ball in an attempt to catch up. If La Tech is able to manage an early lead and control the ball with Moats, it could get interesting though. I just can’t see that happening, however. In all likelihood, Miami will take a one to two touchdown lead into half-time and pull away in the second half. An opening drive score by the Canes would be a comforting factor, as it will likely make Louisiana Tech think twice about their grind it out game plan.

Prediction: Canes, big time

Alabama-Birmingham at Florida State
Many experts this week have questioned FSU’s decision to start Chris Rix this week, the logic of keeping Jeff Bowden as offensive coordinator, and the likelihood that UAB could pull off an upset here – if it were not for FSU’s strong defense.

I fully expect Florida State to win in a blowout here, and I think they will erase some of the doubts about their play-calling with an offensive romp. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

Miami and Florida State are both starting senior quarterbacks this year. If Miami is going to challenge for a national title this year, they’ll likely stick with Brock Berlin as quarterback (if only because I can’t see them changing quarterbacks mid-stream if they’re winning). If Miami does give some experience to a younger quarterback, it will likely be in mop-up time (which won’t be great developmental experience) or on the heels of a loss (which will likely knock the Canes out of national title contention). I’m not a big fan of that scenario – at least not this year. The flip side to that is that if the Canes win out and run the table this year, they’ll enter the 2005 season with a relatively (or totally) inexperienced starting quarterback (as both Brock Berlin and Derrick Crudup will be gone). If Florida State keeps playing Rix all year, they’ll be in much the same situation. Given that both teams open with one another next year, I hope that FSU is starting an inexperienced quarterback if Miami is, so I’d like to see Rix stay on the field.

Prediction: Noles, by a wider margin than the Canes beat the Bulldogs

Florida at Tennessee
Like with the Florida State – Miami game last week, this game is too close to call, particularly so early in the year. It goes without saying that having this game in Knoxville is a huge advantage for the Vols. Neyland Stadium is the humongous and will be filled with about 110,000 people wearing some shade of orange on Saturday night. It will be loud and it will be raucous.

That will be an interesting experience for Gators sophomore quarterback Chris Leak, who has gone up against hostile crowds, like against Miami last year in his collegiate debut, and has heard loud crowds, like for most of the games he’s played in at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Still, he’s never experienced anything like what he’ll see and hear on Saturday night. It’s possible that his brother, a senior with the Vols, gave him some insight, but I doubt it. This is a game that both teams need to win.

On the surface, a big disadvantage for Tennessee going into this game is that they’re rotating two true freshmen at quarterback. This is definitely not desirable when you’re facing a top 10 team early in the season. However, in their debuts, Tennessee quarterbacks Schaeffer and Ainge looked more than impressive. Couple that with the fact that the Gators defense gave up nearly three-hundred yards last week against Eastern Michigan (or about double what Miami surrendered to Florida State), and you have to have at least some hope if you’re a Vols fan.

Prediction: Volunteers by less than a touchdown

Braves at Marlins
Going into the weekend, the Braves essentially have the National League East sewn up. One could argue that they’ve had it sewn up since some point in 1991. The one time they didn’t, in 1994, there was a strike which kept the Braves seeming infinite run of division titles in tact.

The picture for the Marlins isn’t quite so rosy, but there is still hope. The Fish are only 3 ½ games behind the Wild Card leading Giants with eighteen games left to play. While the Marlins haven’t fared well this year against the Braves (4 – 9), they have fared well against one team that they have six games left – the Phillies (11 – 1). If the Fish can turn it around against the Braves and continue to play against the Phillies as they have the last few years, they could find themselves knocking on the door of the playoffs again, particularly as the Giants wind up their seasons against division rivals like the Padres and the Dodgers.

In reality though, I just don’t see it happening. The Marlins are likely to fade down the stretch, if for no other reason than the sheer quantity of games they’re going to play in September. More critical to the Marlins than this weekend’s games against the Braves is the doubleheader on Monday against the Cubs. If one team is able to manage a sweep, they’ll likely virtually eliminate the loser from wild card contention. A split in that series would only serve to make a tie at the end of the regular season more likely and would drag out this exciting race a little bit further.

Prediction: Marlins take two out of three this weekend

Red Sox at Yankees
Way back at the All-Star break all of us probably circled this series as a fun one to watch, but few of us (me included) probably thought they’d be playing for anything here. It was pretty widely assumed that the playoff fates of both teams would pretty much be decided by now, and in reality they are, but what wasn’t expected was the possibility that the Red Sox could actually win the American League East.

The task is tall this weekend as the Red Sox head into Yankee Stadium for a three game set. Sunday’s game looks like the highlight of the series, with Pedro Martinez taking the hill for the Red Sox and Mike Mussina opposing him for the Yankees.

Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the Yankees will still have a lead in the division. Granted, that lead may be down to a half game if the Red Sox can manage a sweep, but even at that point the Yankees will control their own destiny.

Sox fans almost have to be hoping for a sweep here because even winning the series two-games-to-one only picks up one game in the standings for the Red Sox. We’re starting to run short of time on the season, and there are only so many head to head games left. Both teams are going to end up in the post-season regardless – barring some unforeseen catastrophic collapse – so it doesn’t really matter who wins the division and who takes the Wild Card, but you’d have to think it’s a huge advantage for the Red Sox – at least psychologically – to head into the post-season as the division champions for the first time in a long time.

Prediction: Red Sox take two of three, including a Sunday afternoon thriller

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