September 6, 2011

Finally, A Clear Layman's Guide to Understanding American Football

I have been frustrated by the lack of a single, clear guide to American football written for the person who has only a passing familiarity with the game. I understand - the NFL and college football have become near pathological obsessions for the majority of American men, and a decent chunk of women as well. We have reached the point where not having a passing knowledge of how the game is played can actually have a negative impact on your career potential, appeal as a romantic partner, or even your marriage.


I took the time to create what I believe is the best basic guide to understanding American football. Rather than forcing the vocabulary that has never worked, especially the cursed downs and penalties, I wanted to give people who are new to the game a basic understanding that will allow a basic understanding of why people are running in the direction they are running. Yes, it is 76 slides, with some nice illustrations and images thrown in. No, I have no commercial purpose for this (and I believe we no longer have paying advertisers since this blog has been pretty well defunct for a while - fair use, perhaps?)

Please enjoy it, and share it with your mother, girlfriend, wife, awkward work friend, first- or second-generation immigrant, sheltered nerd, or print it and give it to the Amish. Like it or not, knowing football is a required life skill in the United States.

Permalink to the guide HERE. (PDF)

November 4, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 10

A little more patience and consideration this week in an attempt to turn things around:

Air Force (-7) over ARMY - Air Force gave Oklahoma all they wanted in Norman, and finally broke through against Navy. Count on them winning the Commander's Cup with ease. Army's record is better, but the quality of the competition does not compare.

MIAMI (-8) over Maryland - If Harris plays, this should not be close. Wait to put your money to find out his condition.

Illinois (+3) over MICHIGAN - The Wolverines' porous D is still porous, and was gashed last week by Penn St, which isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut this year. The Illini are a tough, physical team, which can't be said for Michigan.

Oklahoma (-3) over TEXAS A&M - The Aggies have struggled against good teams this year, with losses to OK State, Arkansas, and Missouri. Expect a margin similar to the 30-9 loss to Mizzou.

KANSAS ST (+4) over Texas - Consecutive home losses to UCLA, Iowa St, and Baylor have me down on the Horns. K State is playing better right now, even after a loss to the Cowboys, and I'm not sure Texas is really going to play as desperately as they need to if they want to make a bowl game at all.

Tcu (-5) over UTAH - The Utes are good, but not nearly as good as the Horned Frogs. The spread being under a TD is a gift.

Arizona (+9) over STANFORD - This game was a classic last year, and I think the Wildcats have improved since last year. The Cardinal doesn't have Gerhart any more. Stanford will probably win at home, but this spread is too large.

Alabama (-6.5) over LSU - The Mad Hatter just doesn't have enough offense for this one. You have to like the under (44) in this one.

Last week: 3-5
Season: 29-24-3

October 29, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 9

A little more time to make this week's picks should lead to a better result. I'm planning to spend all day on the couch watching so let's see where all the excitement will be.

Clemson (-7) over BOSTON COLLEGE - As long as the Tiggers don't implode on the road and turn the ball over repeatedly, this should be an easy cover. Clemson manages to lose games they shouldn't surprisingly often.

IOWA (-6.5) over Michigan St - Not quite sure what to make of this spread. Sparty beat the Badgers, the Badgers beat Iowa (even if it was thanks to a fake punt). Iowa has looked really good at times, but has also managed to lose twice already. This game being at Iowa is a big deal, I think the Hawkeyes pull this one out and fairly decisively.

Kentucky (+6.5) over MISS ST - The Bulldogs have struggled to score all year and have been turnover-prone. The Wildcats are certainly inconsistent but one good half from them might be enough to win or at least cover, and the Cats won't quit (see the SC game).

Auburn (-7) over MISS - The Rebels are shockingly terrible this year.

GEORGIA (-2.5) over Florida - 4 weeks ago, Florida would have been a prohibitive favorite, but the Dawgs have turned it on, and the Gators haven't shown anything resembling an offense.

Oklahoma St (-5) over K ST - I still think the Cowboys are a really good team, even if they couldn't stop Martinez. The Cowboys' offense didn't struggle against what's supposed to be a good Huskers D.

Michigan (-3) over PENN ST - The freshman QB continues to struggle and no offense equals no wins for the Nittany Lions. See losses to Illinois and Iowa, for example. This is true even against the Wolverines porous D.

USC (+6.5) over Oregon - I'm buying into the hype about this being their bowl game. They certainly have the athletes to compete with the Ducks, and I think this game could look similar to the Stanford-USC game where neither team could stop the other in the 2nd half.

Last week: 2-4 (disappointing)
Season: 26-19-3

October 23, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 8

After a week out of town, it's speed pick time just before noon, with a bunch of very tough spreads to choose from:

KENTUCKY (+4) over Georgia

AUBURN (-5.5) over Lsu

IOWA (-6) over Wisconsin

OK ST (+6) over Nebraska

Maryland (+4) over BC

Notre Dame (-6.5) over NAVY

Last week: 2-2-1
Season: 24-15-3

October 15, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 7

Last week would have been outstanding if I hadn't expected too much out of both teams the week after the Alabama-Florida showdown. I said earlier in the year that I expected SC to win the SEC East, and I should have stuck to my guns. Anyway, on to this week's picks:

NEBRASKA (-9.5) over Texas - The Huskers have made some decent competition look terrible, including blowouts against Washington and K State. Texas does not appear good enough to stop them, especially on the road in a grudge matchup from last year's conference championship.

Iowa (-3) over MICHIGAN - By far the best D that Shoelace has seen so far. The Wolverines D will once again be the difference, in a bad way.

Oregon St (+1) over WASHINGTON - Back-to-back road wins is a tough ask, but Oregon St is improving and still much better than they're being given credit for. Their two losses are to Boise St and TCU, both on the road, and they just beat Arizona on the road.

Ohio St (-3.5) over WISCONSIN - I expect the Buckeyes to be very unhappy about their projected #5 spot in the BCS. This might get ugly. The Badgers are too one-dimensional, and have struggled against the only good opposition they've played (Arizona St, Mich St).

AUBURN (-4) over Arkansas - The Razorbacks struggle on the road, and the Tigers will be too physical for them over the course of the game.

Last week: 5-3
Overall: 22-13-2

October 7, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 6

A disappointing final result last week on my picks, after NC State had a disastrous second half and Oregon St came up a half point short. However, a 3-3 week isn't too bad. This week is a good time for improvement, and I'm confident the following picks will deliver.

Michigan St (+4.5) over MICHIGAN - The Wolverines' porous defense will keep Sparty in the game, and the State D will significantly outperform the Hoosiers' D from last week. Look for more modest numbers from Shoelace.

NC STATE (-9.5) over Boston College - It's gonna be a rough year for the Eagles, and nothing's changing this week as O'Brien will beat up on his old team.

WAKE FOREST (+4.5) over Navy - The Midshipmen are clearly having a down year, and Wake just played the same offense, giving them a significant advantage in preparation.

GEORGIA (-11.5) over Tennessee - This is a classic WTF line, and the Dawgs have been improving. Even though I think the Vols are superior in the trenches, the home crowd and AJ Green for a full game may be enough to help the Dawgs cover.

Alabama (-6.5) over SOUTH CAROLINA - Vegas must be expecting a let-down from the Tide, which isn't going to happen. The Gamecocks don't have the physical strength to keep up with Bama.

FLORIDA (-6) over Lsu - The Tigers have no offense, and this is the game that it catches up to them.

ARKANSAS (-5.5) over Texas A&M - Mallett will be too much for the Aggies.

STANFORD (-9.5) over Usc - The Trojans' reign in the Pac-10 will officially and conclusively end with a rout at Stanford this weekend. Kiffin's not the same coach Carroll was and the talent doesn't seem to be the same either.

Enjoy the games!

Last week: 3-3
Season: 17-10-2

September 30, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 5

There were some very surprising scores last week, headlined by Texas' flop at home against UCLA, but it didn't result in too much movement in the conference pictures. But this week some division and conference championships will probably be decided. Should be an exciting week.


OKLAHOMA (-3.5) over Texas - In this year's battle for the Big 12 South (aka Red River Shootout), I expect the experience of Landry Jones to make the difference. If Texas doesn't fix the problems that were exposed last week, things could get ugly.

NC STATE (+4) over Virginia Tech - Color me impressed with the Wolfpack after a pounding of GT last weekend, and the Hokies haven't done much this year. A road victory over BC doesn't mean much. Russell Wilson has the Wolfpack in the driver's seat for that division of the ACC.

OREGON ST (-3.5) over Arizona St - Two good teams, but the Beavers are a little underrated after road losses to TCU and Boise.

Notre Dame (-3) over BOSTON COLLEGE - I don't think the Eagles have much this year.

Florida (+8) over ALABAMA - I'm not saying the Tide won't win, but Urban is getting things figured out on offense, and the Gator defense is really good. Look for a close low scoring game. I actually like the under on 48 pts a lot.

OREGON (-7) over Stanford - Too much speed and athleticism for the Ducks, combined with deafening crowd noise. Luck and the Cardinal have not seen this before. This game will put the winner in the driver's seat for the Pac-10 title.

Last week: 3-4
Season: 14-7-1


September 23, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 4

After a little bit of a slow week and a disappointing record of 2-2, there's a lot of interesting matchups this weekend with enticing spreads. Conference play is starting and that's always a good thing.


GEORGIA TECH (-8.5) over NC State - The option at home after a big road win will dominate. Tech's D still has room to improve, but is playing well enough to get the job done.

Georgia (EVEN) over MISSISSIPPI ST - In a battle of 0-2 teams in SEC play, the experience of Richt and the Dawgs is the difference. This game is for Richt's job and the entire UGA season. They'll find a way to win.

Alabama (-7) over ARKANSAS - The Tide is the much more physical team and will dominate the line of scrimmage. The Razorbacks may get a few TDs on the Tide secondary, but Mallett won't have enough time to pass for most of the game. Ingram and Richardson will be too much for an Arkansas D that struggled against UGA at times.

Oregon St (+17.5) over BOISE ST - I expect a very close game. The Broncos are really good, and it's on the blue field, but the Beavers gave TCU a close game and I expect nothing different here.

Stanford (-4.5) over NOTRE DAME - The Cardinal won't need a fake FG in OT to defeat the Irish. The Cardinal are better on both sides of the ball, especially at the line of scrimmage. TD Jesus will definitely need to make multiple appearances for Brian Kelly to have a shot at a win.

Nevada (-4) over BYU - I don't think the Wolfpack's pounding of Cal was a fluke, and this BYU squad clearly misses Max Hall and the other seniors who graduated off last year's team.

South Carolina (+3) over AUBURN - I like the Gamecocks to win the SEC East this year, and this is a crucial game for them. Garcia's experience makes the difference, in spite of Auburn's confidence coming off the Clemson game last week.

Last week: 2-2
Season: 11-3-1

September 16, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 3

There's not as much hype coming into this week, and that's no surprise after surveying the matchups. Here are the games I'm interested in:

Arkansas (+2) over GEORGIA - Mallett is supposed to be the best QB in the SEC this year and lead the Razorbacks to a good season. This is a road game they have to have. But the Dawgs will be none too thrilled about the prospect of 0-2 to start their SEC season. Look for a high scoring game.

NORTH CAROLINA (-1.5) over Georgia Tech - UNC was pretty impressive against LSU, and has had an extra week to prepare. Meanwhile, Tech lost on the road, looking porous on defense and not so great on offense either. This is the game where it becomes really obvious how much the Jackets miss having a #1 WR.

Clemson (+7.5) over AUBURN - In a battle of Tigers wearing orange, I was not sufficiently impressed with Auburn's performance last week to think they will dominate a solid Clemson team.

Iowa (-1.5) over ARIZONA - The Wildcats still have to prove they're good against someone other than other overrated Pac-10 teams. Iowa's a pretty solid team.

Last week: 5-0 (!!)
Season: 9-1-1

September 9, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 2

The primetime games in Week 1 sure didn't disappoint in excitement, let's hope Week 2 can come close to living up to its hype. There should be no lack of good games, as premier inter-conference matchups between ranked teams are balanced by interested divisional matchups in the SEC, among others. Let's see how much we learned from last week. I know not to trust the ACC in big games until proven wrong.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-3) over Georgia - The Dawgs' rookie QB will make his first road start Sat against a very solid D, and without his best WR. Coupled with the experience of Garcia on the other side, I expect a Cocks victory.

Michigan (+4) over NOTRE DAME - I think RichRod finally has a capable team, and Brian Kelly's bunch hasn't worked all the kinks out yet in the new schemes.

ALABAMA (-11.5) over Penn St - A true freshman QB on the road against Nick Saban's D, need I say more?

OKLAHOMA (-7.5) over Florida St - Landry Jones is a year older and wiser. Don't let last week fool you.

OHIO ST (-8.5) over Miami Fl - The Buckeyes will shut down the Canes offense enough to allow Pryor and the offense to take over.

Last week: 4-1-1

September 1, 2010

College Football Picks - Week 1

Welcome back to another exciting season of college football! And a thank you to those of you still paying attention to ECB after a slow summer.

With all the shuffling of conferences coming up the next couple seasons, this year's games should hold extra meaning, especially in rivalries. I hope you're as excited as I am. So let's get straight to the picks for the first week's best games:

Pitt (+3) over UTAH - This is the first really good matchup of the year, played tomorrow. Homefield and the altitude will help a solid Ute team, but I think the physical play of the Panthers and a steady diet of Dion Lewis will carry them to victory.

MICHIGAN (-3) over UConn - What has the college football world come to? Is this spread real? Even with Rich Rod at the helm, I have to think the Wolverines can pull this off. I know UConn is no chump team, but they're not even the best team in the Big East.

BYU (-3) over Washington - The Cougars at home are still good enough to beat an improving Huskies team.

LSU (-1) over North Carolina - Seriously?

Boise St. (-2.5) over VIRGINIA TECH - Does anyone still think Boise is a fluke? Played on a neutral site, this game will be a fascinating mix of styles. However, the Hokies have started slow recently, and the experience of the Broncos will pay dividends. This may be Boise's biggest game of the year, and Peterson won't let them forget that. Boise played terribly in last year's opener against Oregon and still won.

NAVY (-6.5) over Maryland - I think all I need to say here is that Navy almost won at Ohio St last year in their first game, and the Midshipmen will be extra motivated for state bragging rights.

PS. The spreads I'm looking at on USA Today have Georgia at home against ULL as a 28 pt underdog which has to be a typo even with UGA's QB issues. If your local bookie will give you that line, bet a lot.

Enjoy the season!

July 2, 2010

Tour de France 2010 Preview

Saturday marks the start of the Tour de France, and this year promises to offer plenty of great storylines, great drama, and huge surprises. 

Old vs. New

The big story Versus is selling us is the rivalry between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.  While that’s an interesting angle, ultimately I don’t think it will have much of a bearing on the yellow jersey.  Armstrong showed last year that he’s lost a few steps (no shame in that at his age) and Contador has been absolutely untouchable in the Grand Tours.  Condador may not wear yellow into Paris, but Armstrong certainly isn’t going to be the one to deny him.

The Other Guys

Photo Credit kwc.org

Leipheimer, Scheck (x2), Evans, Sastre, Vandevelde, and others think they have a chance to stand atop the podium (or at least wear the yellow jersey for a few days).  Longtime readers know I’m a huge Andy Schleck fan, so I’d love to see him challenge Contador.  Sastre is a former race winner, but like Armstrong, his best days are behind him.  Leipheimer and Vandevelde just aren’t quite good enough, and Cadel Evans is a proven loser.

Won’t Someone Fix the Pavement?

The third stage of the Tour will be contested on cobblestones, which are normally part of the one-day classics, but not traditionally part of the Tour de France.  In theory, this should benefit Lance Armstrong, since Contador doesn’t normally ride the classics.  What it really means, though, is that viewers are likely to see a much more interesting stage than a typical early flat stage (Crashes!  Yeah!  Road Rash!).

The Pyrenees

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Tour’s first foray into the Pyrenees.  To celebrate that fact, this year’s course tackles some of the most famous peaks, including a finish atop the Col de Tourmalet in the must-watch stage of the Tour.

Vino’s Back

Alexander Vinokourov is back in the Tour this year after a three year absence following his positive test for blood doping.  Before that scandal, Vino had been one of the most exciting riders in the Tour.  He’ll be supporting Contador this year, but he could still pull off some surprises (or he could test positive again and create another scandal).

Controversy

In the run up to the Tour, allegations emerged of riders using small motors hidden in the frame of their bikes to help them use less effort to go up hills.  That’s right.  There’s a danger that the Tour de France will be a clandestine moped race.  Kill me now.

Sprinters

Can anyone beat Mark Cavendish?  The British rider dominated the early stages of last year’s Tour before quitting halfway through like a pussy.  He talks a lot of trash, particularly about American Tyler Ferrar, but I’d like to see him wear the Green Jersey in Paris before he initiates a self-coronation. 

It’ll also be interesting to see how well Robbie McEwen does after returning from an injury (and missing the last Tour de France).

Conclusion

So buckle up, we’re set for three full weeks of cycling action!  For those of you who read the blog but hate the Tour, I’m sorry.  But if you haven’t given televised cycling a chance yet, you definitely should.  You might be surprised.