Tag Archives: New Orleans

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma’s Offense vs. Auburn’s Defense

The Auburn Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners will do battle in the 83rd annual Allstate Sugar Bowl on Monday, January 2nd, 2017, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA. Kickoff is set for 7:30 local time (CT).

The seventh ranked Sooners (10-2, 9-0 Big 12) are Big 12 Champions and winners of nine games in-a-row.

The Tigers (8-4, 5-3 SEC) finished the 2016 campaign ranked 17th in the College Football Playoff Poll. That was good enough for second place in the SEC and a spot in a New Year’s Six  bowl game.

This will be only the second time these two college football powers have met on the gridiron. The first encounter came in the Sugar Bowl, oddly enough, following the 1971 season. In that game, Oklahoma jumped out to a 34-0 lead and never looked back, winning 40-22.

Auburn will be making its sixth (2-2-1) appearance in the Sugar Bowl while the Sooners have played in seven (5-2) of these events.

Oklahoma has a high octane offense which scores at a 44.7 (third in the nation) points per game clip. Its total yardage is 557 yards per game (third in the nation), with 319.8 (12th in the nation) of that coming through the air and 237.5 (21st in the nation) on the ground.

Auburn’s strength is its rushing attack, averaging 278.5 yards per game (sixth in the nation and first in the SEC). The Tigers pass for 170.8 yards per game (112th in the nation) and score an average of 32.3 points per game (47th in the nation).

From these statistics, it is clear that Oklahoma is capable of scoring a lot of points and piling up a great deal of yardage. Auburn has a good offense and can run the ball extremely well.

This is where it gets interesting. Auburn is very stingy in points allowed. It only gives up an average of 15.6 points per game. That is fifth in the nation. And total yardage? The Tigers allow 348 yards per game and that is 20th in the nation.

Oklahoma? It gives up 29.7 points per game and allows 440 yards per game.

Auburn gave up as much as 30 points in only one game this season. That came in a 30-12 loss to SEC Champion and College Football Playoff bound Alabama.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, allowed 59 points to Texas Tech, 46 to TCU, 45 to Ohio State, and 40 to Texas.

It all boils down to Oklahoma’s superb offense vs. Auburn’s stellar defense. And I think the game’s key matchup, within this context, is the Tigers’ defensive line versus the Sooners’ offensive line.

Baker Mayfield is an excellent quarterback and Dede Westbrook is as good as it gets at wide receiver. When you combine those two with the running back tandem of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine you begin to get an idea of just why the Sooners vaunted offense is, indeed, so lethal.

Mayfield completed 235 out of 330 pass attempts for 3,669 yards (71.2%) and 38 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.

Westbrook caught 74 passes for 1,465 yards. 16 of those receptions went for touchdowns. He averaged 19.8 yards per catch.

Mixon ran for 1,183 yards on 168 tries for 7.0 yards per carry. Perine ran the ball 179 times for 974 yards and 5.4 yards per carry.

But back to the battle of the trenches. I like Auburn’s d-line to handle Oklahoma’s o-line. And I like Auburn’s o-line to fare well against Oklahoma’s d-line.

Auburn should be able to establish the run with Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson each at full speed. Stanton Truitt and Kam Martin should contribute, as well.

Also, Gus Malzahn says Sean White is well and will not be limited in anyway. That is big news for the Tiger faithful.

One more key is motivation. The news from the Plains is that Auburn is fresh, explosive, highly motivated, and are chomping at the bit to pick up a big win versus a high profile opponent, The Big 12 Champion.

I certainly don’t think Oklahoma will come out flat or listless, but I do think it is disappointed in not making the playoff, and I believe that Auburn wants this one more.

The Sooners are a three-point favorite.

I can see a three-point win, but with the victory going to the Tigers of the SEC.

Auburn 31, Oklahoma 28

Here is some more excellent info, with predictions, on this big game:

http://www.espn.com/blog/ncfnation/post/_/id/134103/sugar-bowl-auburn-tigers-vs-oklahoma-sooners

http://collegefootballnews.com/2016/allstate-sugar-bowl-prediction-game-preview-history-scores

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Bowl Me Over!

I will jump right in with a keen grasp of the obvious. It’s BOWL season! Well, duh!

We’re surrounded by bowls and they’re closing in on us ($1 to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for that bit of inspiration). If you substitute the word idiots, for bowls, then you have the good doctor’s quote exacto.

Much of our chatter about bowls comes in the form of criticism. How many times have you heard or spoke this phrase? Now, everybody together. Fill in the blank. “There are too (blank) bowls.” How did you complete that sentence? I’ll bet you didn’t use the word ‘few’. Who says there are too FEW bowls? No one. Who says there are too ‘many’ bowls? Almost everyone.

It’s true that there are a glut of bowls which now comprise our postseason. There are so many, in fact, that teams with a sterling record of 5-7 are now being invited to participate in these, often meaningless, exhibitions.

Bowl names are sometimes, at once, both puzzling and amusing. Case in point. here are the bowls that have already gone into the books as I write this column. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, AutoNation Cure Bowl,  R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and the Miami Beach Bowl.

That’s six down and thirty-five to go!

Bowls, bowls, bowls! Sponsors, sponsors, sponsors! And half-filled stadiums (which is being generous to a number of these contests). Or half-empty stadiums, huh? 😉

But you know what? I like bowls. Bring ’em on! Watch them or don’t watch them. Let the kids, their schools, and their fans have a big time. It’s fun! And bowl trips, themselves, are a lot of fun. That’s certainly the case as I have experienced it.

I have attended nineteen bowl games, in my lifetime, and the Auburn Tigers were participants in each and every one of them. Surprise!

Let’s take a look at two of the most memorable of these events.

Auburn vs. Michigan – 1984 Sugar BowlIMG_2569

There’s nothing like the first time. This holds true in many areas of life. This was the first bowl game I ever observed in person. And even though it was a low scoring game, Auburn won 9-7, it was very exciting. Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler, said Auburn wouldn’t be able to run the ball on the Wolverines. They did.

Bo Jackson ran for 130 yards on 22 carries and he was named the game’s most outstanding player. But, the Tigers were not able to punch the ball into the end zone. Al Del Greco kicked three field goals to account for all of the Tigers’ points. The last one came with 23 seconds left on the clock to seal it for Auburn.

As memorable as the game was, to me, it was the city of New Orleans that almost stole the show. My wife, Melodye, and I arrived on New Year’s Eve for the game which was to take place on Monday, January 2, as Sunday is pro football day and the Saints were playing at home.

Our hotel, a Days Inn in Kenner, LA, was in the grip of a most unusual cold snap that ‘The Big Easy’ was suffering through at that time. The pipes had burst in the modest facility and we were sent to the International Hotel on Canal Street. It was quite close to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and it was a big step up from the little motel near the airport where we were scheduled to stay

To say a big time was had by all would be putting it mildly. We watched, in both awe and disbelief, at the proceedings which took place in the French Quarter, and, most popularly, on Bourbon Street. “Laissez les bon temps router!” Or, in English, “Let the good times roll!”

They did!

It seems as though we walked dozens of miles in ‘Nawlins’ those three days and nights in late 1983 and early 1984.IMG_2570

There were hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s and rum swizzles at the Seaport Cafe & Bar, but primarily there was beer at Molly’s Irish Pub on Toulouse Street. This was the first time we had ever run across those 24 ounce cans on Foster’s Beer, which is brewed in Australia.

As luck would have it, there was a group of Aussie sailors who were docked in New Orleans and we made their acquaintance through an Auburn student, from Baltimore, who was named Sarah. Sarah, and the sea faring lads from down under, combined with us to finish all of the Foster’s that Molly’s had in stock on the eve of the Sugar Bowl. Then it was into the Dixie beer, which was a step down.

There was also Shrimp Remoulade at Arnaud’s, this is where the dish was conceived, red beans and rice at Joe’s, and oysters at the Acme Oyster House.

We have since made several trips to New Orleans, including four more Sugar Bowls, but there will  never be another like that first one.

“Laissez les bon temps router,” indeed!

Auburn vs. Texas A&M – 1986 Cotton Bowl

As luck would have it, this was the 50th anniversary of the classic from Dallas. Oddly enough, that 1983-84 jaunt to New Orleans was the 50th playing of the Sugar Bowl.

The Aggies, under the leadership of then extraordinarily highly paid coach, Jackie Sherrill, laid a whuppin’ on Heisman winner, Bo Jackson, and the Auburn Tigers. Bo DID win another MVP for this game, yet again.IMG_2568

But what a trip!

We were living in Albany, NY at the time and we were accompanied by our dear friends, Don and Linda Meagher. The Meaghers were New York natives. We were about to introduce them to the world of hospitality, Texas style.

Melodye and I spent the first three years of our marriage in Ft. Worth, so we were very excited to be headed back that way for the first time since we left Tejas. We stayed at a La Quinta Inn in Euless, which is located about half way between Dallas and Ft. Worth.

We gorged on Mexican food at Raphael’s in Dallas, twice, and BBQ at the Southfork Ranch near Plano. The four of us used to always watch Dallas together on Friday nights, so this was a big treat for us.

One night, after dinner at said Raphael’s, I coaxed the crew into stopping by Carter Country in Irving, TX, the then home of the Dallas Cowboys. Carter Country is a combination bowling alley and honky tonk.

Don, not being steeped in, or necessarily comfortable with Texas culture was a bit wide-eyed when we pulled into the parking lot. Don surveyed the situation and said, “I don’t know. There are an awful lot of pickup trucks here.” I assured him that the crowd here could add and subtract and that there would be no problem. There was not a problem. But, we were familiarized with a song that played on the jukebox between live music sets. It was/is entitled, ‘The Rodeo Song’. I’m not going fill you in on the lyrics to ‘The Rodeo Song’ as they are not fit for younger eyes and ears or those who are easily offended. Google it, if you so desire.

‘Well it’s forty below and I don’t give a…”

Take it from there!

The highlight of the Cotton Bowl trip was probably New Year’s Eve at Billy Bob’s Texas. Surely everyone of you good readers is up on this world renowned country and western palace. The mechanical bull and all that. I think Gilley’s was the first of these types of establishments. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Gary Morris and Reba McEntire brought in 1986 that evening. A good, no GREAT, time was had by all. Melodye truly enjoyed the champagne that was served up to us, in twelve ounce Billy Bob’s Texas plastic tumblers, at the stroke of midnight.

Ask her about it the next time you see her. Or, better yet, give her a shout on Facebook. She is such a good sport about my telling of our adventures together. There have been countless numbers of those and I look forward to many,  many more with great anticipation.

The next one will take place in the great state of Alabama. The Birmingham Bowl. We’ll see you here, next week, with a preview of that bowl game, and hopefully, we will see some of you, who help to make up the Auburn Family, in Birmingham.

Peace on earth to one and all!

 

 

 

 

 

Give Me Sunshine for the College Football Title

About a month ago Ralph Russo asked his twitter followers which three of the bidding sites would be their choice for the College Football Title games in 2018-2020. There are nine cities in all bidding for the three years and the breakdown is as follows: 2018 – Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Santa Clara, 2019 – Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, San Antonio, Santa Clara, 2020 – Charlotte, Houston, Minneapolis, New Orleans, San Antonio, Santa Clara. Some of these cities definitely stand out as better choices than others.

I initially ranked my thoughts on the cities before the specific years of each bid were announced, and some cities I crossed off immediately. I am nothing if not a cold-weather hater so Detroit and Minneapolis were eliminated in my head from the get-go. I don’t think Detroit is a destination for much of anything, and while there certainly isn’t anything wrong the city of Minneapolis, football championships should also serve as places people want to visit in the middle of winter, and I’m guessing nowhere in the Midwest is high on that list.

The other two sites I would vote against with a fairly strong conviction are Miami and Charlotte. What’s that you say? People would definitely want to go to Miami in January? Completely agree, but I suppose these sites should be a little about the actual game as well. Miami already gets the Orange Bowl every year, and the stadium isn’t conducive to a crowd presence. Or maybe I’ve just seen too many pictures of Hurricanes home crowds over the last couple years. I’m sure Charlotte is a nice city. Never been there, but I’ve heard good things. But I’ve also never heard of it talked about as one of the most popular destinations, and I don’t think it would create the type of buzz that college football is looking for. The stadium leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s in the middle of ACC country, you know the ACC with all those football powerhouses.

The last two cuts were the hardest to make. Santa Clara was one of them. The stadium is/will be state-of-the-art, especially with all the improvements being made for the Super Bowl. But that’s part of the problem, it just feels like an NFL area. And it’s almost an hour to any major city not including San Jose. The final cut was Houston, which was a toss-up for me with San Antonio.

High school and college football are everything in Texas, so it just feels right to have a college football title game there. San Antonio has a lot to offer, a city full of culture and an Alamodome that is undergoing major renovations for its 25th anniversary. The football set-up? Let’s just say it’ll play. And the venue is walking distance to the famous Riverwalk for all the out-of-towners. Fun for everyone! The other two sites I think have to be awarded title games are Atlanta and New Orleans. Atlanta is in the heart of SEC country so there’s a chance you could have a bunch of rabid SEC fans rooting on their conference (should one of their teams make the title game) as well as a bunch of rabid “everyone else” fans rooting against that SEC team. I’m not sure if the crowd or the game would be more entertaining. Oh and there’s this little thing called the College Football Hall of Fame that just so happens to be in Atlanta. How could you not have a championship game there? New Orleans doesn’t even need explaining. And now I’ll give you reasons, because anytime someone says “X doesn’t need explaining” it is a must that they go on to explain ‘X’. Whether it’s for the Super Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, or any Saints home game, the Superdome always seems to provide a great atmosphere during a game. As far as tourist attractions? I think it’s safe to say people could find things to do the weekend leading up to the day of the game.

While there aren’t many bad choices, the site of the college football playoff should have a mix of college football tradition, a great venue, and plenty to do in the city. I think San Antonio, Atlanta, and New Orleans fit those three pretty well.

From LA to L.A. – IndyCar featured in Will Smith film, ‘Focus’

Focus. It’s something we are required to have when we find our passion and want to turn it into something bigger… something more tangible and accessible than a simple admiration or desire. Focus is what allows us to move forward, what assists us in turning dreams into reality. Focus also happens to be the title of the newest Will Smith film hitting the U.S. market this week.

Will Smith is one of the biggest celebrities on the planet. His films have broken records, become classics, and inspired millions.

IndyCar is the premiere North American auto racing series and in the opinion of this writer, the best open-wheel racing on the globe. In similar fashion to Smith, IndyCar is no stranger to breaking records. Countless numbers of the series drivers & tracks as well as its traditions are considered classic & timeless. Not to mention the undeniable fact that sport has inspired millions as well – from fans and engineers to professional drivers and those in the arts.

Pippa Mann, Conor Daly, Gabby Chaves & James Hinchcliffe at the AMC Castleton Indianapolis preview of Focus - photo c/o IndyCar
Pippa Mann, Conor Daly, Gabby Chaves & James Hinchcliffe at the AMC Castleton Indianapolis preview of Focus – photo c/o IndyCar

The combination of Will Smith & IndyCar not only makes perfect sense… but it seemed inevitable. Two powerhouses coming together to form what is sure to be a blockbuster film and whose teaming is advantageous to all parties involved. Multiple Verizon IndyCar Series drivers appeared at the advance screening premieres this week throughout the country, with Ed Carpenter in Detroit and Gabby Chaves, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann in Indianapolis. Graham Rahal & fiancé, Courtney Force were planning to walk the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere, but unfortunately were unable to attend due to illness. I wouldn’t be surprised however, to see Will Smith walking the red carpet at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May on the morning of the Indianapolis 500… makes perfect sense to me! Smith was quoted at the L.A. premiere as saying, “The IndyCars were fantastic!” Can’t argue with him there… so why not check out the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, in person?

The racing scenes in ‘Focus’ were filmed at the NOLA Motorsports Park back in 2013. The series will host it’s inaugural event at the track this April. Andretti Autosport driver, Carlos Munoz piloted the cars in the film as well as former IndyCar driver & current BHA team owner, Bryan Herta. Munoz was eager to tweet out a photo from the set with Will Smith as soon as all the news about the collaboration was made public.

I’ve been a huge fan of Will Smith’s work for decades, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way. I’m also a huge film nerd and as you may or may not have gathered… I like the Verizon IndyCar Series. That said, it’s obvious what my plans are this weekend! Check out this behind the scenes video, which shows how racing and film-making came together so fluidly in Focus.

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11-on-11: The NFL Spoils Spaceballs

So, Lonestar was a prince the whole time. Forget the million spacebucks. That guy in the Winnebago is royalty.

Did I mention there would be spoilers? You’ve had almost 30 years to watch Spaceballs, so I’m not going to feel bad about this. It wasn’t my intention to do a Spaceballs thing, but my hand was forced when a laptop battery died and took two thousand righteous words about this weekend’s NFL action with it. So, today we’re going to bring you the short, short version.

After two tries to knot up Prince Valium and Princess Vespa, the officiant did the nuptials in 30 seconds, “Do you? Do you? Good! You’re married, kiss her!”.

That said, here we go. It’s a turbo edition of the 11-on-11.

Game I Anticipated Most

In a battle of 4-4 teams at the Superdome, the 49ers were clearly more desperate to move to 5-4 than the Saints, who play in the god-awful NFC South. Trying to convince yourself there’d be quality football was like hoping there’d be a hip DJ at the first wedding, the one where the bride-to-be took her Droid of Honor and plotted here intergalactic escape from the altar.

As successful as they’ve been at home, there’s been something fishy about the Saints this season. At first, I thought it was just a matter of pass/fail surrounding their usage of Jimmy Graham, but there’s no question they need to run the ball to keep defenses off balance. The Saints ran the ball efficiently, but made too many mistakes and let Colin Kaepernick survive the ones he made in a 27-24 overtime loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

Thursday is a Good Night to Breathe

“As president of Planet Spaceball, I can assure both you and your viewers that there’s absolutely no air shortage whatsoever. Yes, of course. I’ve heard the same rumor myself. Yes, thanks for calling and not reversing the charges. Bye.”

I do sometimes wonder how many people in the entertainment industry were calling President Skroob collect, but the air shortage was a real thing and no one would be convinced otherwise. After Sunday’s NFL action, this rumor about the Browns owning sole possession of first place in the AFC North began to get legs.

An unfortunate beaming accident caused Andy Dalton’s ass to be put on backwards, and before Snotty could reverse the beam, he’d thrown 3 of his 33 pass attempts into the arms of Browns defenders. Two went to Buster Skrine, as the Browns showed they won’t simply lay down and die without the services of their All-Pro Center. In a game that answered the question, what if Mel Brooks would have cast the red-headed, yellow-eyed bully from A Christmas Story as Colonel Sandurz, the Browns left Cincinnati with a 24-3 victory. Three days later, they found themselves in a place that no Cleveland Brown has been in 19 years, alone in first place.

Comb the Desert

Try as they might, the experts “ain’t found shit” while combing the desert searching for reasons to doubt the Arizona Cardinals. Take away their starting quarterback, no problem. Suspend Darryl Washington, watch Karlos Dansby chase those Cleveland dollars, and lose Darnell Dockett for the year; they’ve got this.

While a loss to the Rams wouldn’t have exactly ended their season, the Cardinals were as cool as the soft drink Pizza The Hutt would consume while eating himself, trailing 14-10 in the 4th quarter on Sunday. Carson Palmer was probably learning that his ACL was torn to shreds, Drew Stanton came off the bench and hit the Pittsburg State rookie John Brown for 48 yards, which was good for another game-winner, Brown’s fourth such victory-clinching catch this season. A few defensive touchdowns made it look better, but the 31-14 final score means a lot less in these parts than the Birds overall record of 9-1.

Keep combing that desert though.

They’ve Gone to Plaid

The Packers 55-17 win over the Chicago Bears just skipped light speed and went straight to Ludicrous Speed. Aaron Rodgers’ 6 touchdown passes in the first half gave the Packers a 42-0 halftime lead, and as ugly as it was, it could have been worse.

Lovie Smith is 1-8 in Tampa Bay. Marc Trestman is 3-6 with the Bears. Bears fans want their old coach back now.

“No, no, no. Go past this. Pass this part. In fact, never play this again.”

– Marc Trestman in the filmroom on Monday…probably a few times

When Will Then Be Now? Soon.

If John Fox could only get his hands on the Super Bowl 49 DVD and look ahead to what awaits him in February, it would be a more efficient use of his time than having to game-plan for the Raiders. I’ll tell you, this would be really exciting to watch, but we’re all fatigued with regular season Denver.

We want to see playoff Denver, not “41-17 over the winless Raiders” Denver. Peyton Manning had 340 yards passing with 5 touchdowns, and a couple of young men with the surname of Thomas filled up the stat sheet once again…yawn.

I Knew It, I’m Surrounded By Assholes

assholesI’m just going to pat myself on the back for resisting the urge to make jokes about Dot’s virgin-alarm on anyone on the Steelers roster. However, they have now lost to the Jets and Tampa Bay this season after falling to Michael Vick and the New Jersey Green Team on Sunday. Of the five teams that play both the struggling Jets and inept Bucs, Pittsburgh will be the only team to lose to both this season.

So the combination is… one, two, three, four, five?

This is the section where we usually discuss who might end up with the top pick next May, and the reality is the top five picks might not help the 0-9 Raiders going forward. Maybe they need the change of scenery that Los Angeles can provide, but maybe Mark Davis should change the combination on his luggage before the migration to Southern California.

There Goes The Planet

This is our worst game of the week award, and it goes to the NFC South. What an epic battle between Tampa Bay and Atlanta! The final was 27-17; do you even care who won?

If advanced apes rode into Raymond James Stadium on horseback on Sunday for their first taste of the NFL, I think they’d turn around and contemplate a return to living like primates.

 

Dirty Laundry Award

“Thank you for pressing the self-destruct button”

Bears…11 penalties…163 yards. Green Bay ran the ball 32 times for 132 yards on Sunday night; even at a clip of 4.1 yards per carry, they were better off letting the Bears self-destruct at Lambeau.

For the Degenerates

“Careful you idiot! I said across her nose, not up it!”

The Eagles are giving Carolina a touchdown with the standard extra point at home on Monday Night Football. Let Cam and company have those points, Philly will make a statement tonight. The 48.5 Over/Under is tricky, but the Panthers will find the end zone a few times in defeat to help everyone playing the over.

Random, Perhaps Unimportant

So, there was this interception by Miami’s Brent Grimes in Detroit…

IMG_0045

Brokeback Romo isn’t just a tasteless slur for people who don’t like the Cowboys any more. With his vertebrae somewhat intact, the Dallas starter wowed a British audience with 3 touchdown passes in the team’s win over Jacksonville in London.

Hey! Those are the guys that stole our uniforms!
To be fair, the Titans stopped wearing the old Oilers uniforms after a few seasons in Nashville and the Ravens never wore orange and brown in any official capacity, but Nashville and Baltimore take NFL teams that didn’t belong to them in the 90s. The used-to-be-Browns beat the used-to-be-Oilers in Baltimore on Sunday, while the used-to-be-Baltimore-Colts and replacement Oilers took the week off.

Before I go, I want to really pay a compliment to Mel Brooks for making this more than a spoof, giving mock-Chewbacca and mock-3PO some real personality of their own with John Candy as Barf and Joan Rivers as Dot Matrix. They were ancillary sidekick figures, but both late actors held their own in this flick. There’s a loose comparison to be made between those two and the Chiefs and Bills. Neither team is going to steal the show, but they sure could play spoiler, or even make a brief run of their own. Both were 5-3 entering play in Buffalo on Sunday, but the gap between 6-3 and 5-4 right now might be the difference between being in or being out in January. The Chiefs put themselves in a good position with a 17-13 road victory.

dotbarf
“The ring is bupkis! I found it in a Cracker Jack box!”
I never saw the Sea Chickens as a heel. They struggled a bit early, but you’d have a tough time convincing me of any Super Bowl hangover. It’s tough to win in a league where no one really knows anything, and even if it took Seattle catching a break in their schedule with Carolina, Oakland, and the Giants, they still have their eye on the prize. They trail the 8-1 Cardinals by two games in the NFC West standings, but have two shots at the Cardinals in their last six games, so they still control their own destiny in the division. It’s going to be a fun couple of weeks, so stay tuned out west.

Finally, today (November 10th) is the United States Marine Corps’ 239th birthday. The whole deal started at Tun Tavern on this date in 1775, in the city that hosts Monday Night Football tonight. Let’s see if ESPN pays homage on their telecast. Either way, happy birthday Marines and Semper Fi.

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IndyCar 2015: Ready, Set, Race – Part I of II

Here we go. The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season is set in place. Dates, locations, times and broadcast syndicates are all public knowledge. Media and fans alike can plan their Spring & Summer travel and they can look forward to yet another incredible year of race competition. While some teams and drivers are as solid as the schedule, some combinations are yet to be announced or even determined. Where will Ryan Briscoe end up? Who will drive for Bryan Herta Autosport? Will there be any new teams or drivers added to the full season? Certainly there is a plethora of talent to still choose from, many of which have already had opportunities to pilot a DW-12 here or there but thirst for an entire season’s circuits to prove their abilities and determination to perform victoriously.

The answers to all these questions will come to us over the next 5 months and we have to practice patience until the rumors and speculation are put to rest. So for now, let’s focus on what we do know and take a closer look at the 2015 season as it stands.

Sunday, March 8th
Brasilia, Brazil

Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet
Permanent Road Course
Broadcast live on NBC Sports Network – 11:00AM EST

nelson-piquet-brasilia-circuit_1 IndyCar is no stranger to Brazil. The CART series raced at the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway from 1996-200 in Rio de Janeiro (oval track) and then the IndyCar Series contested at a temporary street circuit in Sao Paulo from 2010-2013. The Brasilia Indy 300 will mark the first time the series competes at a road course in the South American country. Promoters are projecting 100,000 fans in attendance this coming March and with this season-opener being a homecoming for drivers like Helio Castroneves & Tony Kanaan, we are guaranteed one heck of a party to kickoff the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season!

Sunday, March 29th
St. Petersburg, FL

Streets of St. Petersburg
Temporary Street Circuit
Broadcast live on ABC Network – 3:00PM EST

SAM_20562015 will mark the 11th race in St. Petersburg for the IndyCar Series; CART raced there initially in 2003. This west-coast of Florida street circuit has been the domestic opener for the Indycar Series since 2009 and will continue that tradition this upcoming year. This will be the second year with Firestone as the title sponsor of the race, keeping it’s same title as last year – the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Keep an eye on Team Penske at this one – they come in as the defending winners (Will Power, 2014), have won 6 of the 10 races here, plus they come to Florida this year with a 4-car team thanks to the addition of Simon Pagenaud.

Sunday, April 12th
Avondale, LA

NOLA Motorsports Park
Permanent Road Course
Broadcast Live on NBC Sports Network – 3:00PM EST

AerialNOLAThe series first race in the city of New Orleans will take place this April, just 20 miles from downtown and the famed French Quarter. The first of two Alan Wilson designed circuits on the 2015 schedule (the second being Barber Motorsports Park), the Verizon IndyCar Series will race on the 2.7 mile North Track of the grounds. In the future, once the currently-proposed South Track is completed, there will be potential to combine both and create a 5+ mile road course. This will be the longest race track in North America and certainly could make for a record-breaking and unprecedented race opportunity for the IndyCar Series. I hope to see the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Lousiana produce success in fan numbers on the grounds as well as broadcast viewership. That along with the weekend being financially beneficial to the city would assist in having the series enjoy a long tenure at the motorsports park.

Sunday, April 19th
Long Beach, CA

Streets of Long Beach
Temporary Street Circuit
Broadcast live on NBC Sports Network – 4:00PM EST

Long-Beach-GP_6474bThe Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has a very long history. The longest history of any street race in North America, as a matter of fact – the series that have claimed this race however, has changed hands many times in it’s now 41-year stint. Formula 5000 to Formula 1 to the CART Series and now the Verizon IndyCar Series – one of the only things that hasn’t changed about this race is that it’s the largest event in the city of Long Beach, drawing in just under a quarter of a million fans annually. Many refer to the Grand Prix of Long Beach as “IndyCar’s Monaco”, as the premier American Open Wheel Series has held ownership of the circuit since 1984, through both CART & then IndyCar; it’s location in Los Angeles County brings the glitz & glamour of LA and Hollywood to the race weekend glory. I’ve always heard this is a don’t-miss race and while I’ve been to Long Beach multiple times, I have yet to experience this event. I am doing my best to attend in 2015, so I hope to see you all there!

Sunday, April 26th
Birmingham, AL

Barber Motorsports Park
Permanent Road Course
Broadcast live on NBC Sports Network – 3:00PM EST

SAM_3366Returning for it’s 6th consecutive year, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is framed by the stunningly beautiful Barber Motorsports Park grounds. From its lush forest to rolling green hills and colorful landscaping, along with the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum, fans get a true experience when visiting for this race weekend – the entire atmosphere really made an impression on me when I first traveled to Birmingham this past April. One element of that atmosphere was having so many awesome support series over the 3-day weekend. Not only were all three series from the Mazda Road to Indy on hand (Indy Lights, Pro Mazda & USF 2000), but the Pirelli World Challenge was there as well. Having track action nearly from sun-up to sun-down creates very fan-friendly conditions and allows for more extensive media coverage across the board. I hope to see multiple support series back at Barber in 2015 – and actually, I hope to see this kind of racing support for all Verizon IndyCar Series weekends. I think it’s a huge key to drawing a solid fan base and garnering new interest.

Saturday, May 9th
Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Combined Road Course
Broadcast live on ABC Network – 3:30PM EST

20140510_162423The sophomore year of the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis will return to the same weekend as it premiered in 2014. The placement of this race the Saturday before Indianapolis 500 Qualifying yet again, ensures another great start to the Month of May and the opportunity for fans and media alike to enjoy an additional weekend at the world-famous Speedway. Last year’s race produced a career-first pole for Sebastian Saavedra, a career-first front row start for Jack Hawksworth, the first standing start for IndyCar at IMS (with a scary crash involving the stalled polesitter) and marked the first time the series raced clockwise at the Indianapolis landmark.

Sunday, May 24th
Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Oval Track
Broadcast live on ABC Network – 12:00PM EST

20140517_111704For open wheel racing fans, Memorial Day weekend means one thing: the Greatest Spectacle on Earth. The 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 will certainly be one to remember. Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves will again attempt to join the 4-timers club with A.J. Foyt, Jr., Al Unser & Rick Mears while Ryan Hunter-Reay will attempt to defend his crown with Andretti Autosport at the Yard of Bricks. Another interesting aspect to the 500 is the additional entries that the race draws – so far we know of two confirmed teams that will fight for a spot at the iconic race. Buddy Lazier plans to pilot a car through his own Lazier Partners Racing team and Bryan Clauson will be behind the wheel of the newly-formed Jonathan Byrd Racing team (with help from KVSH Racing). More teams & drivers are sure to add their names to the entry list, so stay tuned to MTAF Wheels for the latest in the off-season as well as updates as we progress through the year and work our way towards Indy 500 Qualifications on Saturday, May 16th & Sunday, May 17th.

Saturday, May 30th & Sunday, May 31st
Detroit, MI

Raceway at Belle Isle Park
Temporary Street Circuit
Broadcast live on ABC Network – 3:30PM EST (both days)

SAM_4235While the tradition of an open wheel Grand Prix of Detroit has traditions dating back to 1928 (and 1905 if you include the one-time Grosse Pointe dirt track), the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit as it is known now has more modern ties. The current street circuit set up is the same as the CART races from 1992-2001 and this upcoming season will be the third in a row where we have a double-header weekend on the Isle between Detroit, MI & Windsor, Ontario CAN. Belle Isle has been home to this race since the 1992 CART race, moving from Renaissance Center on the mainland. The festival-like atmosphere of this Detroit classic brings fans back year after year and I think another big part of that is the constant track action that the weekend sees. In 2014, The Dual in Detroit 3-day span saw 7 races among 4 different series (Verizon IndyCar Series, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge & Stadium Super Trucks) entertaining the crowds! It only makes sense that the Motor City feature as much racing as possible on a race weekend – I hope to see this set up back in 2015, because any less would be a mistake!

That’s a look at the tracks & their history for the first half of the season – I will look at the second half of the season later this week so stay tuned to MTAF WheelsTwitter & Facebook for that article to go live in the next few days!

What are your thoughts on the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule? Which weekends are you planning to attend for the first half of the year? Let me know by connecting any time on Twitter or Facebook.

* * * * *

Escape From the S-E-C

Simple, little events can do so much to change the way we see things and how we feel about them.  We might not appreciate how good it feels, after being antagonized by something for so long, to be past that albatross.  A little reflection upon the 2013 College Football season has left me grateful the enlightenment I experienced in the wake of the most recent Championship Game.

It’s hard to believe the days before the BCS were a half a lifetime ago, literally half of my life. Granted, we were all victims to the limited coverage we were offered way back then, but I don’t exactly recall the national networks picking up the SEC games very frequently. It’s not a slight on them; they usually had a Top 10 team in the Sugar Bowl and lord knows Ohio State couldn’t hang with any of their teams on New Year’s Day, but it goes to show that the Southeastern Conference was never anything special in my formative years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDoZ0Nf5nbw

I’d never personally heard anyone refer to a team by the pedigree of their conference before that night in 2005, just minutes after Vince Young and Texas upset Ohio State in Columbus. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, LSU was playing a “home game” against Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium, a game the Sun Devils let get away in the end. That’s when I heard it.

“You can’t do that against an S-E-C team.”

Then, I heard it again.

“The S-E-C is going to make you pay for that.”

Really? The whole conference? When the game ended in defeat for ASU, it was more of the same; I eventually had to look and make sure that it was still Louisiana State playing in Tempe, and not some compilation of all-star student athletes from the Gulf region.

I guess it was more of a warning shot than anything else, something that should have prepared me for the hype machine that would steam-roll the world of College Football for nearly an entire decade. It wasn’t quite that long, six full seasons of College Football, plus a day that brought in this new age in January of 2007. I have to admit I was a little bit surprised, by everything.

I expected Florida to have a similar showing to what Miami brought to the desert four years earlier, which was a weak showing. And though Ohio State was playing in Arizona in January for the fourth time in five years, I still expected an overwhelming delegation of Scarlet and Gray. Things were different this time around, the schools had more of a 50/50 representation, and this SEC tidal wave had hit the Valley of the Sun.

It didn’t just hit the local area; it hit the Buckeyes on the field, where they suffered a 41-14 defeat. It was the third BCS Championship for the Southeastern Conference in the series’ nine-year existence, but Florida’s first since 1996. The fans sang that, “it’s great to be…a Florida Gator,” but throughout the game the dominant chant was, “S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C.”

It didn’t add up for me. Why give your league credit, when it’s your school, not the other eleven you erroneously include with that nonsense, that deserves the glory. I thought about it; maybe I don’t have a good perspective on this because Ohio State’s distaste for Michigan is so intense that I’d never want another Big Ten school have the glory. But, then there’s Arizona State; Pac-10 rival USC had claimed two consecutive AP National Championships, but the jubilation was more in tune locally when Texas denied them a third at the 2006 Rose Bowl. In every professional sport I take interest in, the teams I desire the worst things for happen to be in the same division as my favorite teams.

A year later, almost to the day, Ohio State ends up on the field with the Southeastern Conference’s champion once again; this time it’s Louisiana State in the state of Louisiana. I didn’t take the trip to New Orleans, but I heard it was more of that chant in the atmosphere around the game and saw a similar result on the field. LSU had won their second championship in five years, coincidentally on the same field. A week earlier, Florida lost to Michigan in Florida, but those Florida fans were happy for their conference foe, and it was if Ohio State losing was more important in Gainesville than the Gators winning.

In the following years, it became less about Ohio State and more about getting one team from the league into the big game. While the Buckeyes were forced into a consolation game with Texas, the Gators were back at it again, taking down Oklahoma for the second title in three years, while Alabama lost to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. It was all good in Alabama though; their mighty SEC brother kept the championship in the conference, and the chants continued.

Alabama got theirs the next season, besting Big 12 Champ Texas in Pasadena, giving the conference their 4th straight title, but Alabama’s first since Bear Bryant put them atop the College Football World in 1979. The next season, the conference and the state of Alabama were back at it, but this time it was Cam Newton and Auburn against Oregon in Glendale. The Ducks gave the best effort we’d seen in SEC’s 5-year run, but it was not to be in the end.

A sixth title for the conference was inevitable when the final poll had the SEC West Division Runner-Up at #2, behind the conference’s champion. LSU, the SEC Champion, became the first league champion since Georgia in 2005 not to bring the title home, but that’s really only a matter of a technicality since it was Alabama who took them down, avenging their November loss to the Tigers at home, their only loss of the 2011 season. In 2012, Alabama made quick work of previously undefeated Notre Dame in Miami for back-to-back championships, leaving only one more season for the conference to put a stamp on the BCS era.

It seems so silly, to want it to end. At this point, it had become like rooting for the Washington Generals. I felt like Gary and Ace’s nemesis on TV Funhouse’s Ambiguously Gay Duo; all he ever wanted was concrete confirmation that these faux superheroes were gay, leading him to become increasingly frustrated, which inevitably made for his demise. Of course, this 2013 season coincided with my first at More Than A Fan, dedicated to covering College Football; so, I did my best to put my feeling aside in the name of objectivity.

If I allowed myself to be giddy with a down year for the SEC, I did it quietly. Georgia lost to Clemson, then South Carolina lost to Georgia. Florida lost to Miami, Texas A&M took a home loss to Alabama, Auburn lost to LSU, then LSU lost to Georgia. It wasn’t even October, and most of the SEC had been crossed off the list, not that I was happy or sad about it in any way. Missouri stuck around the ranks of the unbeaten longer than most had expected, until they lost their quarterback in October, and we all knew Alabama would be a tough nut to crack.

When the other shoe would fall for the Tide, all it did was elevate Auburn. It elevated Missouri as well, even though they both lacked a 0 in the loss column. They’d enter the SEC Championship, for the first time in ages, without a berth in the BCS National Championship assured to the winner. They needed help and they got it; Auburn despite the loss to LSU and the need for miracle finishes against Georgia and Alabama got the bump they needed from Michigan State, who pushed Ohio State into the loss column for the first time on the year, and it would be Florida State versus Auburn for that last crystal football.

As the game went to intermission, with Auburn up 21-10, I remember saying to myself, “I’m over it.” The best team in the country should win the title. With thirty minutes left in the season, I couldn’t make an argument for any other team. Stanford laid an egg at Utah, Oregon lost to Arizona, the Buckeyes may shown their true colors in Indianapolis against Michigan State, and Clemson was destroyed at home by this Florida State team that has no answers for Auburn on either side of the ball.

Eight straight titles were inevitable, and it was time to take my hat off to those eight teams. I’d done plenty of that in the past. I can’t think of any year where the title game ended, and thought the winner didn’t earn it, or that the winner wasn’t the best team in the land, even if it did take me a couple of days/months/years to accept that the 2006 Ohio State team just wasn’t that good. The only knock I had on this Auburn team was that nobody paid attention to them until mid-November, but that’s more on me and everyone else than it is about these Tigers, who couldn’t beat a single team they played in-conference in 2012.

Then, the second half happened and Florida State won the football game. They won the final BCS National Championship, and I finally got an answer to the question that I’d been asking for about five years. How will I feel when this streak is over?

I think the answer falls somewhere between feeling nothing at all and being free of the burden. What I’ve learned is, the hype machine wasn’t nearly as I ever made it out to be, even if it was completely overdone. It isn’t like I took any joy in Auburn losing or Florida State winning; it just happened, two good football teams took the field and the better team might have won in the end. I don’t think the result told us much about the ACC and SEC in 2013, let alone what’s happened over the last 8 or 16 years.

They play good football in the SEC. The league’s better teams do anyways. I think it’s possible that Kentucky was just as bad as Kansas or Cal; we really don’t know. I think it’s possible that a middle-of-the-road team like Vanderbilt could have taken down the Pac-12 runner-up; even though Arizona State was embarrassed by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, they had the best regular season record in the conference that was almost granted as the consensus #2 conference in the country. The underlying truth to all of this is that it’s difficult to compare two teams that don’t play on the same field.

What I think we get caught up in is, if Team A or League A is good, then Team B or League B must suck. This logic, or lack thereof, also works in reverse. It takes the lowest common denominator to accept this idea as gospel. Take Oklahoma, for example; had they lost to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, it would have somehow made Oregon better and worthy of Oklahoma’s spot in a BCS game after the fact. And since Oklahoma won, Alabama must have been overrated all year.

Damien and I preach it all of the time on the College Football Roundtable podcast, just because a good team loses to another good team, they don’t suddenly become a bad football team. Clemson isn’t terrible for losing to Florida State or South Carolina. Ohio State doesn’t become overrated garbage for losing 4th quarter leads over Michigan State or Clemson. I think we tend to get so hung up on what one or two people say about something, and there’s this panic to overcome the perception.

As fans, especially those who have nearly made it our life’s work to discredit the SEC as a whole, disprove their quality as a conference and dissent from the status quo, we have our own far-fetched views that don’t make any sense. There is some logic that we ignore; if your conference doesn’t win any of their bowl games, it means something, and if the crown jewel of the conference has never won a bowl game against an SEC team, it’s okay for fans of any of those school for keeping that streak intact.

If an analyst is critical of a team with real facts to back it up, he’s not a “hater”; he’s just doing his job. I know that it goes too far sometimes, but not so much from the people we might first suspect. CBS, who does their due in promoting their SEC product, tends to be very balanced. ESPN, another broadcast partner of the Southeastern Conference, has a very large staff, and many of them can be honest when something’s awry south of the Mason-Dixon. Obviously, there are exceptions; some people who shouldn’t have a voice are given one.

So, if we can ignore the likes of Mark May, Clay Travis, and Dan LeBatard, I think I can make my point. The thesis of this whole thing is the ability to have an open mind. The sunset of the BCS, as well as the parity offered with Florida State’s title, cleans the slate. I think we can go back to watching games without any preconceived agendas because of conference affiliation, sans the high-major versus mid-major element, which is hard to deny. I was getting tired of the half-baked theory that Team Y was better than Team Z because one was in the SEC and the other was in the Big Ten; it never made sense to me.

Going forward, I hope to see some quality football from the Southeastern Conference, but I’d prefer it if the logo were just a patch on the uniform and a marking on 14 football fields. It doesn’t need to be a way of life, in fact, it’s better for everyone if it isn’t.