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.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Steroids Show

A parade of Hall of Famers went before Congress yesterday to talk about performance enhancing drugs, steroid testing, and the validity of records in the game of baseball. Nearly everyone seemed either (or both) angered or disappointed by what has become of the game of baseball.

What's amazing to me though is that as upset as all of these people are, none of them seems to get it. They're talking about stiffer penalties for positive tests. But what they're missing is that they're not testing for anything. Why don't they talk about testing for HGH? Or requiring the tests to be done with blood? The urine based tests that they're using today are insufficient to catch everything that baseball players could possibly be using. If you're going to get all worked up about this (now that the budget is set and there are no wars to fight, apparently), at least do it right.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Things That Sound Funny But Are True

The Yankees wouldn't be where they are right now (in good position to make the playoffs) if it wasn't for Aaron Small.

That's simply frightening. Or at least I think it has to be if you're a Yankees fan. The year started with Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright headlining an expensive rotation. They've been dinged up throughout the year and have depended on the likes of Chien-Min Wang and Aaron Small. And they're still in the race. Wow.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Canes - Colorado: What I'm looking for

The Hurricanes play their first home game of the year this weekend against Colorado. This is the continuation of a home-and-home series from the early 90s that was postponed because of a fight in Boulder during the first game and later Miami's probation.

It's an early start (noon kickoff) which should work to Miami's advantage. It also figures to be hot and humid, which could work to Miami's advantage as well (although many would argue that the high altitude training in Boulder that the Buffs get year-round will negate any such advantage).

Regardless of all that, the Canes should win this game handily. Rather, they need to win this game handily. Oddsmakers have the Canes as a two touchdown favorite. To solidify themselves as a top-10 type team and to keep themselves in the BCS discussion, I think Miami needs that sort of a win - probably more than that.

Honestly, I don't know much about Colorado, other than two things: they have a lot of returning starters on defense (10 - or nearly everyone) and their special teams are solid.

The strength of Colorado's special teams will present an interesting test for the Canes. One of Miami's hallmarks over the years has been outstanding special teams play. Over the past decade, Miami leads the nation in non-offensive scoring (including defensive touchdowns). While the Canes blocked a punt last week against Clemson, special teams have not been a highlight for the Canes this year. In the loss against FSU, special teams were horrific for Miami. There was hardly anything redeeming. Against Clemson, there wasn't anything special that happened. Quite frankly, with the current explosiveness (or lack thereof) of Miami's offense, the special teams needs to do something spectacular (create a turnover and/or score points). If that doesn't happen soon (not necessarily this weekend), it will be time to be concerned about the Canes special teams.

On offense, it will be interesting to see how Colorado reacts to Miami's "new" unbalanced offensive line (where the two tackles line up next two each other). Look to see more of that this week. Clemson didn't react and played straight up against it. I'd expect Colorado to throw in a wrinkle or two when they see it. Apparently that might cause Miami to throw instead of just running right over the big lineman.

Hopefully we'll see a little more "balance" return to the Canes this week - or at least we'll hopefully see more of a proclivity to throw the ball down the field on occasion. Doing that would require Miami to give Wright more time. We'll see if that happens.

Defensively, we've already seen the emergence of Kenny Phillips. I think he's going to be a mainstay in the secondary until he departs for the NFL. His impact on the defense could be similar to what Ray Lewis was for the Canes. It's early for Phillips (and don't confuse him with the other true freshman, who is not his brother, Randy), but he has all the makings of a star.

This week may also be the first time that we see highly-touted Willie Williams get extended playing time with the defense. Willie didn't see much action last week, but he was in on at least three tackles.

Prediction: Miami 38 - Colorado 13

In other action this weekend, there are a lot of good games. Two big ones take place in the ACC, with both games having implications on the ACC title race.

Boston College travels to Death Valley to face Clemson. It's BC's first road ACC game. If Clemson wins, they have an inside track to the ACC title game - assuming they can knock off FSU (the Tigers' loss to Miami last week came outside their division, so it doesn't hurt them as much). If BC can win the game, they'll still be in the race, but they'll need help (as in two FSU conference losses).

The other big game in the ACC features Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. GT will likely be without their star quarterback, Reggie Ball, who's suffering from viral meningitis. Without Ball, the Rambling Wreck will likely be slowed. Virginia Tech likely doesn't need any advantages. The best matchup in this game should be GT's Calvin Johnson (WR) against VT's Jimmy Williams (DB). Some all-conference and possibly all-American awards will likely go to the victor of that matchup.

There are a number of good games nationally. Tennessee - LSU was moved to Monday night. Weather permitting, that should be great. I'm also curious to see if Oregon can give USC a game. I don't think they can, but the crowd noise should make the first quarter interesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Can the White Sox Hang On?

There's a little more than a week left in the baseball season and the White Sox are clinging to a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL Central. Just a month or two ago, I would have thought it was impossible for the White Sox to be in this position right now. I would have thought that the Sox would have had the division wrapped up by this point.

But they don't. The face the Twins and Johan Santana tonight and a three game set in Cleveland, against the hard charging Indians looms next week.

I'm holding out hope, but I'm not too optimistic. If the White Sox fail to make the playoffs it will go down as one of (if not "the") biggest collapses in the history of professional sports. Despite the Sox history of futility, they've never done anything along these lines before. Hopefully they won't start it this year.

That's the funny thing about this. If the Sox win the division by one game, no one will ever remember a "collapse". But should the Sox finish with 95 or 96 wins but trail the Indians by one game at the end of the season, all anyone will remember is how the Sox lost a fifteen game division lead.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Football Picks

I know that it doesn't count because I didn't tell anyone ahead of time and I didn't even publish it, but last week (for the first time ever), I made some football picks (just for fun). Amazingly, I went 4-0 last week against the spread. A handful of games just jumped out at me. They were:

Tulsa + 31
Clemson + 1
Virginia Tech - 31
Northern Illinois + 2.5

Clemson made things scary for awhile, and Northern Illinois' game was very close too. But in the end I would have "won" them all. But it was all just pretend.

I was hoping that more games would jump out at me this week, but so far they haven't. The games of interest to me (point spread wise) are:

Oregon State +13 (vs. Louisville)

There are a number of interesting college games this weekend, but I'm not comfortable making a recommended wager on any of them:

Miami (-7) at Clemson
Oklahoma at UCLA (-6)
Tennessee at Florida (-4.5)
Florida State at Boston College (-1)

I have no idea what's going to happen in the Miami game.

I still can't get past the idea of Oklahoma getting that many points, despite how much they've struggled and despite that they'll be on the road. Have you seen Adrian Peterson? He single-handedly beat Tulsa last week and Tulsa knew what he was going to do (run right at them).

Boston College could be the real deal. But maybe Florida State (with all of their athletes) will really put it together this weekend.

It should be an interesting weekend. This is why I'm not a gambler.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Barry's Back

Even though Barry Bonds was involved in a verbal fight with my childhood hero earlier this summer, I can't help but be captivated by Bonds' return to baseball. Bonds returned to the Giants lineup last night and, for the most part, looked like he hadn't missed a beat.

The Padres pitched him tough: lots of pitches just off the outside part of the plate and strikes low and in. If Bonds was 100%, which I think it's safe to say he isn't, he'd likely turn on those balls that are low and in and crush them into McCovey Cove. Last night he clearly couldn't do that though.

But Barry still had enough in him to nearly drive one ball out of the ballpark (missing a 1st at bat home run by mere feet). Bonds probably won't catch Ruth before the end of the season (he would need to hit 11 homers in 19 games), but he's going to pull remarkably close.

Monday, September 12, 2005

FishStripes Issues - Marlins at Astros Here?

It looks like we're having some trouble over at FishStripes today. The site isn't working for me (at least not most of the time). Just in case the site isn't up, feel free to make your picks here and/or to use this thread as the open thread. If things return to normal over there, I'll update this entry or leave a comment.

Willis vs. Backe at 8:05

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dear Jan - Part One

From a loyal reader (left in the comments):
Would you like to compare schedules? I'm no expert, but the announcers displayed ND's schedule for this year claiming it was one of the toughest in the nation. I don't recall hearing anything like that for Miami or Florida.
Really? You want to compare schedules? That's pretty weak. You don't have anything better to hang your hat on than strength of schedule? Wow. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

A lot goes into strength of schedule, and much of it is luck. Many of the bigger "home-and-home" series (like Notre Dame - Tennessee or Miami - Colorado) are scheduled years, if not decades (such as the Oklahoma - Ohio State series, which isn't scheduled to begin until 2018 or so), in advance of when they'll actually be played. As you well know, a national power can become nothing more than an also-ran in that amount of time.

In addition, most schools play in a conference, which takes away much of the ability to schedule challenging games. Still, Miami will play 5 teams that are currently ranked and 7 teams that appeared in bowl games last year. Notre Dame faces 4 ranked teams (5 if you count Pittsburgh) and 4 that appeared in bowls. The difference is slight, but I don't think it makes your argument.

And I'm sorry to bring up a subject like bowl games. I know that it's been a really long time since "your" beloved Notre Dame won a bowl game (1994 was ND's last bowl win. Since then, ND has appeared in seven bowl games in eleven seasons; last year's loss in the Bowl was Notre Dame's second during this losing streak to noted power Oregon State. The improvement Notre Dame showed against the Beavers was definitely encouraging - in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame lost 41-9. Last year, across town from the site of the Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame narrowed the gap to just a 17 point deficit).

That said, it's difficult to assess strength of schedule this early in the season, since most of the schedule hasn't been played. Unexpected strong teams will emerge and other teams will fail to meet expectations.

Did you mean to reference the Florida schedule? What's the connection there? I don't think you want to go there. You clearly aren't aware of the number of ACC teams ranked in the Top 25, so I highly doubt that you're aware of the number of SEC teams that are ranked. I'll assume that you confused Florida and Florida State in your comment.

It's silly to do, but you brought it up, so let's look at Miami and Notre Dame's 2005 schedules:

Notre Dame’s 2005 Opponents

At Pittsburgh - The Panthers were ranked in the pre-season polls, but dropped out after losing their opener to Notre Dame. Amazingly, many Notre Dame fans are considering this to be a big win. I find this hard to understand - as the Chicago portion of Notre Dame fans (who should at least be familiar with Bears’ history) have apparently forgotten the damage that Dave Wannstedt can inflict on a program. He ruined the Bears. Then Wanny drove the Miami Dolphins into the ground. Maybe he’s doing the same to Pitt.

At Michigan - The Wolverines are highly ranked and on paper this looks like a challenging game. Traditionally, at least in the past decade or so, Michigan has been overrated in pre-season and early season polls.

Michigan State - Generally picked to finish near the middle of the pack in the Big 10, well behind the big boys.

At Washington - This is likely a game that was scheduled awhile back when Washington was a powerhouse. The only reason this game is interesting is because of the Huskies new coach - but talk of him merits its own piece (you know, how a classy place like Notre Dame handled his dismissal so honorably).

At Purdue - ND caught some bad luck here in catching a Purdue program that’s on the rise. If the Boilermakers keep putting solid teams together they’ll likely find that Notre Dame isn’t so willing to continue this series… or at least that Notre Dame will be less willing to travel to Purdue (that seems to be ND’s M.O. with the big programs that they tend to avoid).

USC - A traditional rivalry game. USC is up right now. This game will be a good measuring stick for ND.

BYU - Maybe this game was scheduled when the Cougars were a power. But it’s just another game.

Tennessee - The Vols were highly regarded in the pre-season, but struggled against a weak UAB team in the opening week. In all likelihood the Vols are for real. UT is a program that’s doesn't run away from any program. They'll play anyone, anywhere, and they'll even travel.

Navy - There’s some nice sentiment here in playing a service academy, but this game is a joke. Notre Dame should win this game with their scout team.

Syracuse - Some Big East teams were left scrambling to fill in their schedules and it looks like Syracuse found a match with Notre Dame. Nothing to see here.

At Stanford - Another “rivalry” for Notre Dame in that they play regularly, but the Cardinal are no powerhouse.

Miami Hurricanes’ 2005 Schedule

At Florida State - While the Noles have been down (relatively) since appearing in the 2000 National Championship game, they still win bowl games and turn out NFL draft picks.

At Clemson - Death Valley is a tough place to play. The Tigers are ranked and are led by a senior QB who would likely be in the NFL this year if not for a shaky junior campaign.

Colorado - This game is a continuation of a series that started in the early 90s. It’s just taken awhile to get the return game scheduled. Back when this home-and-home was set up, Colorado was pretty dominant. You might remember it (yeah, I know - there was no clip; Rocket really broke that one).

South Florida - This game was scheduled for two reasons: the previously scheduled opponent (Houston) backed out late last year (this was originally scheduled when Houston was once again an up-and-coming program and their Athletic Director was Miami's former AD) and to get the Canes a presence in Tampa (UM travels to Tampa in 2006), which is an important area to recruit, but which is largely owned by Florida and, to a lesser degree, Florida State. USF is a non-entity in Division I football. Miami is doing an instate school a favor by playing this game.

Duke - One of the benefits to being in a conference is that you get an easy game or two on the schedule. The payback comes during basketball season.

At Temple - As part of Miami's exit from the Big East, the Canes had to agree to play this game with Temple, in Philly, at cavernous Lincoln Financial Field - where the Owls rarely play. The Owls are planning on selling a bunch of tickets to this game.

Georgia Tech - The Yellow Jackets are ranked. This should be a good game.

North Carolina - If not for last year's upset, this game wouldn't be interesting. UNC will be decent, but this isn't a game the Canes would schedule if it weren't for the conference.

At Virginia Tech - Lane Stadium (like Death Valley and Michigan) is another very tough place to play. If this is a night game, the stadium will rock. Plus, the Hokies are an excellent team. This has become an exciting rivalry.

At Wake Forest - At least the Demon Deacons have high standards for their athletes that actually mean something (too much to get into here - but this will be a separate piece one day).

Virginia - Another ranked opponent for the Canes, despite that the Cavaliers lost a number of high draft picks to the NFL after last season. This should be a good game.

Well, that's it for the 2005 regular season schedules. Sorry that this isn't very thorough, but I put it together pretty quickly.

Thanks for this opportunity to talk about Notre Dame football. I've been looking for a way to work in a piece about Notre Dame's fradulent claim that they don't lower their admissions standards for athletes. I'll bring you published proof that this is false. Start lining up your excuses and denials. It would be appreciated if you could support them with facts.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Griffey - Out

Rumors are circulating that Ken Griffey Jr. is out for the year. He was injured over the weekend.

It was just a week or two ago that I was hoping that the White Sox would swing a deal to bring Griffey to the South Side. It never came to be - apparently because the Reds didn't want to deal him or because Griffey didn't want to be dealt.

Now it looks like (assuming the rumors are true) that it's a good thing.

I wonder if this makes Griffey eligible for next year's comeback player of the year award. If so, he could be the first player to win the award in back-to-back seasons.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Getting Ready for the Canes and the Noles

College football season, ushered in by the likes of Central Florida - South Carolina and Vanderbilt - Wake Forest last night, is back. There are some big games this weekend (Boise State - Georgia, NC State - Virginia Tech, and Urban Meyer's Florida debut), but the big game, at least for folks in Florida, is Miami - Florida State on Monday night.

It's tough to figure out what's going to happen in Monday's game. Mainly because it's the first game of the year for both teams. Possibly more importantly, both Miami (Kyle Wright) and Florida State (Drew Weatherford) will be making their first starts at quarterback.

Wright has been designated as the starter for much longer than Weatherford (who was just officially named to the job this week). That's good for Wright, because he'll need the extra prep time to be prepared for what surely will be a hostile environment for the Canes.

Adding to the jitters is that Miami will be starting a new center. The combination of a loud crowd, a new starter at quarterback, and a new starter at center could lead to some false starts and mis-handled snaps. Florida State is likely counting on that as much as Miami is fearful of it.

There are many more questions (on both sidelines) heading into this game.

Florida State fans are quick to point out that they'll be better able to run the ball this year. Despite losing two highly regarded tackles (to the NFL - one as a first round pick), FSU regains the talents of a 6th-year center, who was injured and did not play against Miami last year. What remains to be seen is whether or not the addition of one well-regarded talent can replace the loss of two all-conference bookends of the offensive line. FSU has also switched from a man-blocking to a zone-blocking scheme. We'll have to see how well the Noles work together as a unit and how well the scheme works against the Canes. Keep in mind that Florida State, with Booker and Washington in the backfield, only managed to average 1.6 ypc in last year's game.

Miami's defense is also a question mark. The Canes have much more depth and experience than they had last year, but nearly everyone from the defense which ranked 67th in the nation against the run last year will be back. The Canes stopped the Noles ground game last year. But they didn't stop many others. Will the Canes stop the run this year? Will they be able to stop spread offenses? That remains to be seen - but it sure seems they have the talent to do it.

FSU's defense, which was excellent last season is in much the same predicament as the Canes. Expectations are high for the Noles, but they are largely unproven particularly at defensive end and in the secondary. If the Canes can give Kyle Wright some time, they may be able to use their depth at wide receiver to exploit inexperience in the Noles defensive backs.

A number of off-field issues could ultimately prove to have no impact on the game, or they could be rallying points and motivating factors for the Seminoles. Wyatt Sexton was supposed to be the Noles starter at quarterback this year, but after a highly unusual episode, he was diagnosed with Lyme disease and will not play football this season. Is that a distraction or a rallying point or neither? Florida State had the validity of their nickname called into question by the NCAA this summer. FSU ultimately won their battle and will retain their Seminole nickname and will continue their traditions. Their traditional planting of a flaming spear at mid-field before kickoff will occur before Monday's game. A member of the Seminole tribe will participate. Will this serve as extra motivation for the Noles, or does it really hype the Canes (as they claim the spear throwing and Warchant does)?

We'll see on Monday night. It should be fun.