October 27, 2004

Cal vs ASU

This game will very likely decide who goes to the Rose Bowl. With just four games remaining, ASU faces only Stanford before closing the year with easy wins at home against WSU and on the road at Arizona. Cal will have Oregon and Stanford at home and Washington on the road (plus USM).

ASU is already bowl-eligible at 6-1 (3-1 Pac-10). Their only loss was to USC, a 45-7 blowout in Los Angeles the week after USC barely nipped Cal. Cal is looking to get bowl-eligible (5-1, 3-1 Pac-10). Their only loss was the 23-17 near-miss in Los Angeles at USC.

Cal is #8 in the current BCS poll and #7 AP/#8 ESPN. ASU is #15 in the BCS poll and #20 AP/#21 ESPN. ASU would probably be ranked higher but for their low preseason expectations. Sagarin puts ASU at #10 (86.26) and Cal at #5 (89.52). With the home advantage (3.36), Sagarin makes Cal a 6 1/2-point favorite. The oddsmakers give ASU less respect, though, and they expect the Bears to triumph by at least two touchdowns.

ASU was not given much respect preseason, either, being picked to finish 6th in the conference behind even OSU and WSU.

Arizona State is one of only two teams (Michigan the other) to score more than 16 points against Iowa (currently #24)--ASU scored 44 and allowed only 7 in that game. The big question for Bears fans is this: Which game is the aberration and which is the true ASU... the 45-7 shellacking they took at USC or the 44-7 beating they put on Iowa at home? Or is the answer somewhere in between?

Offensively, the answer lies with ASU's passing game. ASU has had 350 or more yards passing in three games, and scored 4 or more passing TDs in each of those games. Yet they have five games rushing less than 130 yards a game, and in all seven games they rushed for less than 140. They have only four rushing TDs as a team. Consider: ASU as a team has 735 yards rushing and 4 TDs in seven games, averaging 2.9 yards per rush. JJ Arrington has 918 yards in six games with 10 TDs, averaging 7.2 yards per rush. Even with that, they're 4th in the Pac-10 in scoring with 32.1 points per game, with three games scoring over 40 points.

You would look at those stats and think they pass 75% of the time, but they don't. They have rushed 252 times and passed 279 times, pretty balanced at 52.5% passing and 47.5% rushing. Yet they have 22 TDs passing and only 4 rushing, they get 7.2 yards per catch versus 2.9 yards per rush. Even so, it gets stranger: They complete only 54.8% of their passes (6th in the Pac) and are 5th in passing efficiency. Also, they hit on 42.7% of their third downs (at 117 chances, they are 2nd-most in the league and have by far the most conversions).

ASU is also best in the Pac in the red zone, scoring on 25 of their 27 opportunities. Only two other teams have more red zone chances than ASU: USC (37) and Oregon (34). But not all is so rosy: Only 16 of those 25 scores were touchdowns. They have confidence in their kicker, who's made 9 of 10 in the red zone. Compare these stats to Cal: With 27 opportunities in the red zone (more per game than ASU), Cal has scored TDs on 21 of those occasions and have come up without points just three times.

Part of ASU's passing success is due to WR Hagan, who has four 100-yard receiving games this year (Iowa, UCLA, UTEP, N'western) and 10 in his career. He has 7 of ASU's passing TDs. But seven players have touchdown catches for the Sun Devils, so you can't just blanket Hagan and ignore the others.

Perhaps the most impressive stat of ASU's is their +10 turnover margin (1.4 per game). They have not lost a fumble this year, and QB Walter has thrown just 7 interceptions in their 7 games. They have gained 6 fumbles and 11 interceptions, however, most notably 4 picks each from UTEP and UCLA.

ASU's OL is young (two sophomores and two juniors, plus one graduate student) and not huge (they average 299 pounds; Cal's D line weighs in at 285 average), so the Bear defense should be able to stop the run and focus on the pass a bit more. Their running backs are three freshmen and a junior, which also is a reason their running game is weak. Walter is the real deal, however, so this will be a real test of Cal's passing defense. Walter may be the most dangerous QB the Bears face all year, including Matt Leinart. Yet he was abysmal against Oregon State and USC and was schitzophrenic (3 int, 6 TD) against UCLA.

The key to stopping Walter is apparently a very good defensive backfield. Oregon State and USC both have outstanding DBs, and those are the two teams to hold Walter to relatively low numbers (a combined 39-for-79 with two interceptions and 1 touchdown). While QB pressure will be important in helping the DBs do their job on Saturday, I think the key will be in how well the DBs step up to the challenge. Cal's speed and experience here, coupled with their intense rushing defense, will hold ASU relatively in check. I think the Sun Devils will score way more than just 7 points (night game, smaller crowd, Rose Bowl on the line, revenge factor for the past two years), but I don't think they'll get more than 28. Maybe 31 if the Bears have that one extra turnover they've been giving up recently.

On the other side of the ball, ASU's defense has been pretty stingy. Through the first five games, they gave up an average of 12.5 points per game. In their last two games, however, they have given up 45 and 42 points. Those (USC and UCLA) are both good offenses, better than anything they'd faced yet. And this week it steps up another notch for them with Arrington's powerful running, Rodgers' efficient passing, and Cal's huge O line.

The ASU defensive line averages just 264 pounds (compare to Cal's O line at 312 pounds). USC and UCLA both have very large O lines as well, and both had good success running the ball as well as overall offensive success. ASU has collected 23 sacks, however, 3rd in the Pac-10, including 3 against UCLA and one against USC. Over half of those are by the DL, evenly spread out among the starters. Their top three tacklers, though, are linebackers. I think this suggests that their system is working reasonable well--you want sacks from your DL and tackles from your LBs. The D line also has a large number of tackles for loss, also evenly spread among them.

Overall, ASU's defense is statistically solid but unimpressive. They're fourth in scoring defense at 21.6 points per game, but against top offenses in their last two games they gave up 92 points. They are 5th in rushing defense giving up 121 yards per game and 9 rushing TDs, with a relatively high 3.6 yards per carry allowed. They are dead last in passing defense, allowing 236 yards per game, but they have 11 interceptions to 9 passing TDs allowed, and pretty close to the league average at 55% completions allowed and giving up a reasonably low 6.4 yards per catch.
Compare to Cal's offense: #1 in scoring (41 ppg, 34 TDs, 5.7 TDs/game), #1 in rushing (245 yards per game, 18 rushing TDs, 5.8 yards per carry), #5 in passing offense (263 ypg, 16 TDs, an astounding 9.9 yards per catch and an eye-popping 73.6% completion rate), and #1 in total offense (508 yards per game, 7.4 yards per play). UCLA is the closest thing to such a balanced, powerful attack in the conference, and they're way back in the distance. ASU simply have not faced as big, powerful, strong, and efficient attack as Cal's.

The Bears should be able to run on ASU like UCLA did (233 yards, 3 rushing TDs), and they should also be able to pass like UCLA did most of the game (30 of 45 for 325 yards and 2 TDs, though UCLA threw FOUR interceptions).

Like UCLA, however, the Bears could be done in by turnovers. While it's unlikely that ASU will go the entire season without losing a single fumble, they are +10 overall while Cal is -3. Rodgers has thrown four interceptions to his 159 completions, and most were probably not his fault, but the Bears have to take care of the football and not hand it over to ASU in good field position.
When I began looking at the stats, I was very concerned that ASU is a powerful team, one that should probably be in the top 15. While they are good, and they are capable of beating the Bears, I think Cal should win this game nine times out of ten, in convincing fashion. The tenth time is when Walter is on fire and turnovers change the game, and even then it would be more like the thrilling comeback ASU had against UCLA last week: close and high-scoring, with late plays deciding the final.

I see no reason to think that Cal will suffer a major letdown against a team that just put up 48 points and is in the path of their steamroller ride to bowl eligibility and, hopefully, a Rose Bowl. The Bears could come out flat, however, due to the late kickoff and the expected lack of fans in the seats (the Cal press release says attendance is expected to be a season-low 51,000). If they do, and they allow ASU to get some turnovers and catch fire in the passing game, they could be in big trouble.

I don't think it'll happen though, based on this team's history and the raw talent and power they have. I think this game goes Cal's way from the opening drive, similar to the UCLA game. ASU will make a good first half of it, but in the second half their O and D lines simply won't be able to stay with Cal's linemen, and Arrington will put on a serious show in the second half. I think Cal's defense will hector Walter all night, and Cal's DBs will defend well. ASU will be forced to pass the entire second half, so I hope to see a few sacks for the Bears and a lot of third-and-long situations for the Sun Devils.

I think Cal begins to pull away seriously in the third quarter after going into halftime 28-17, with the final score Cal 48, ASU 27.

Go Bears!

October 25, 2004

Just sick and tired

I am just tired of the election already. The presidential campaign has worn me out, so far to the effect that I don't even yet know what local issues are on my ballot. I can't imagine what kind of hell those poor people in the "swing states" (read: propoganda targets) are living.

Is there anyone that has not already made up their minds about who should win this presidential election? I know the feeling of being undecided--the California gubernatorial election was a tough one (I couldn't decide between the prostitute, the stripper, or Gary Coleman... turns out Conan won). But come on. Bush and Kerry are so fundamentally different that if you're undecided at this point, then you've got something wrong with you.

Come to think of it, if you're supporting Bush at this point, then... well...

Anyway, I just can't wait for it all to be over. Maybe that's Bush's plan: just tire the Democrats out, and maybe they'll sleep through election day, and he can be anointed king for another term without all that pesky arguing about who actually got more votes. Meanwhile, he continues to "lead" the economy to ruin, Iraq to ruin, the environment to ruin, and America's credibility to ruin. He's finally found his strength: He's so good at ruining things that he decided his entire campaign should be based on ruining John Kerry's reputation. Hell, there's about as much truth in what Bush says about Kerry as there is in what he says about Iraq.

But who needs a president who tells the truth, cares about America's standing in the world, and actually thinks about policy? All we need in the White House is a guy we'd feel comfortable having a beer with, or digging up bugs on the ranch out with the Real Men.

Welcome to the Reality TV president. Joe Politician. Big Brother. I think it's time to vote this idiot off the island.

October 21, 2004

Cal at Arizona: Awefense versus Awwwfense

Arizona is #80 in the sagarin ratings (67.28) and unranked in both polls. Cal is #6 Sagarin (89.16) and 7/8 in the polls, as well as #8 in the first BCS rankings. Cal is a 22-point favorite by the oddsmakers, and Sagarin predicts Cal winning by 25. Arizona is riding a 5-game losing streak and have lost 7 of their last 8 going back to last year. Their only win this year was over Div 1-AA Northern Arizona, 21-3.

Over the years, however, it seems that Arizona is Cal's annual "let-down" game. In the 23 games the teams have played, the difference in scoring is an average of ONE POINT per game (Arizona holds a narrow 24.7 to 23.7 lead). Thirteen of the games have been decided by 7 or fewer points. And we all remember the game that caused the "Tomey Rule," which requires teams to go for two-point conversions after TDs in every overtime after the second. With the last four meetings in Berkeley, the Bears have not played at Arizona since 1997, Holmoe's first year as coach.

Last year, the Bears demolished the Cats in Berkeley, 42-14, with 327 yards rushing. Echemandu had 201 yards rushing in that game, and Arrington averaged over 8 yards a carry on his way to 92 yards. But that was Last Year. We only care about This Year.

Arizona is much improved, at least on defense. They are still pretty questionable (I hesitate to say "bad"), but the defense has improved by 100 yards and 16 points per game since last year. In their past two games, they held the Pac-10's 2nd and 3rd leading rushers under 100 yards rushing (each). CB Cason was the Pac-10's defensive player of the week the first week of the season. But their top two players in the DT spot on their depth chart are out (suspension, injury), and statistically they just can't match up to the Bears.

Arizona's defense is, unfortunately for them, their strength. They held Wisconsin to just 9 points (1 TD, 1 FG) and held Utah to 23. But their last two games they gave up 37 points to UCLA and 28 points to Oregon

The Cats allow a respectable 3.1 yards per carry and have allowed only 7 rushing TDs in 6 games. They give up a respectable 117.3 yards per game rushing, including holding WSU to just 28 yards rushing and UCLA to 114 yards rushing. In passing defense, however, Arizona gives up a league-worst 7.5 yards per completion and is third-worst in the league in allowing a 57.1% completion rate. (Rodgers completes an astounding 75% of his passes.) In addition, they have the worst TD-to-interception ratio in the league (9 TDs allowed to just 3 picks).

Arizona's defense allows 18.5 first downs per game and gets just 1.25 sacks per game. They allow a league-worst 44.2% 3rd down conversion (the Cal offense is tops in converting at 51%), and they allow 50% 4th down conversion. The Cats have allowed opponents 23 trips to the red zone, where they've given up 14 TDs and 3 field goals.

Arizona's DL averages about 260 pounds, compared to Cal's 315 pound offensive line. The linebackers are all in the 220-235 range. UCLA's OL is also big, and they scored 37 points on the Wildcats. I expect Arizona to put no pressure on Rodgers, and again the passing game will balance off the run game in the first half, and the Bears will simply overpower Arizona in the second half when the run game finally gets going full steam. I am expecting another 150-yard day for Arrington and several receptions for Lynch and McArthur and Cross. It looks especially bad for the Wildcats when you see that their two starting cornerbacks are true freshmen, and for most of the 4th quarter against the Ducks, Arizona had three freshmen playing in their defensive backfield.

Clearly, Arizona's defense will have their hands full with Cal's intense offense (I think we should start spelling it "awefense").

On the other side of the ball... well, let's just say that I think the scouts will all get a good look at Arizona's punter. If Cal's offense is spelled "awefense," then Arizona's should be "awwwfense." That's why Stoops has dumped the sophomore QB in favor of a freshman, who will get his first start on Saturday. This does throw a wrench in things because you never know with a new QB how the offense will respond. They may fall apart, or they may pick up their game and play better than ever before.

The sad part is that even with a doubling of productivity in Arizona's offense, they still would be three touchdowns behind the Bears.

Arizona has scored 20 or more points against only I-AA Northern Arizona, and there they managed just 21. They were held under 10 by Utah and Wisconsin, and in Pac-10 play they are averaging a meager 16.7 points per game. They are last in the Pac-10 in Passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense, and they're only 6th in rushing offense.

On the ground, the Wildcats get 3.6 yards per carry and have scored just 5 TDs in 6 games. They will be going against the league's best defense (2.5 yards per carry, only 3 rushing TDs allowed, and just 86 yards per game rushing allowed). Their passing game is worse, with just 5.9 yards per completion and a 1:1 ratio of TDs to interceptions (5 of each). This adds up to a total of 283 yards per game of total offense, and a league-worst 4.5 yards per play. That's going against the league's best defense, which allows a league-best 4.2 yards per play and 273 yards per game.

It gets worse: U of A is last in 3rd down conversions with a paltry 35% converted. They also achieve a sad 16.3 first downs per game (compared to Cal's 25.4 first downs per game). They are going against the league's best defense again here: Cal allows a league-low 15.4 first downs a game. Arizona has visited the red zone only 16 times in 6 games and has come away without points five times; they only have 6 TDs in the 11 successful drives. There's little reason to believe that trend will change with a freshman quarterback in his first start against the league's best defense.

There are just three things Arizona does really well, judging from the stats: They lead the Pac in kickoff coverage (just 16 yards per return), they avoid penalties, and they get good attendance (nearly 50,000 a game for THIS team?!?).

All in all, this is another clear mismatch for the Bears. The wild cards are the new QB, the letdown factor, and the series history. Again, however these Bears are focused and on task, and a letdown does not appear to be in the cards. The series history is all but moot, and a freshman QB behind an O line that averages around 290 pounds is unlikely to change this game except to make the point spread questionable.

The Bears will dominate this game from start to finish, though in the first half their run game may take a while to get started again. I expect to see a lot of Robertson and the other backups in the 4th quarter. I think Cal goes into halftime 28-0 and rolls away with the game, 48-10.

Go Bears!

October 14, 2004

UCLA at Cal

We all know that JJ Arrington is the conference's leading rusher (144.5 yards per game) and Maurice Drew is right behind (138.2 yards per game), and they both have seven TDs and rank in the top 10 nationally in yards rushing per game and in all-purpose yards per game. But is that REALLY the story of this game?

Yep, you betcha.

This game is probably not going to break any passing records for either side. Last week Aaron Rodgers completed 23 consecutive passes. I'm not sure he'll get that many attempts this week. When you look at the statistics, it becomes pretty clear why.

But first, the rankings:
Cal is #8/9 in the polls, and UCLA is #28/29. Sagarin rates Cal #9 at 87.61, with the nation's 3rd-toughest schedule. UCLA is #26 at 79.64, with the nation's 57th-toughest schedule. With the home advantage of 3.19, Sagarin rates Cal an 11.5-point favorite. The oddsmakers think the Bears are better, though, making it two touchdowns and change.

The Bears were hurt by some injuries against USC last week, most notably Chase Lyman. McCleskey came back but is still slowed. The D line is nicked up.

UCLA is 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the conference, riding a 4-game winning streak where they scored at least 33 points in each win. Their only loss was to 5-0, #15 Oklahoma State (31-20). Their other opponents were weaklings, however: Illinois (35-17), Washington (37-31), San Diego State (33-10), and Arizona (37-17). (Sagarin ratings, respectively: #92, #79, #81, and #77.) So UCLA has proved it can beat up on weaklings, but it has not yet shown it can really handle a top-caliber team like the Bears.

Even against that weak schedule, the Bruins defense is statistically last in the Pac-10. They are dead last in rush defense (250 yards per game, 5.7 yards per rush, 10 rushing TDs allowed) and also total defense (415 yards per game, 5.6 yards per play, 13 TDs). They are also 7th in scoring defense (21.2 ppg). They are pretty good against the pass, however, ranking 3rd in the Pac (165 ypg, 4 interceptions, just 3 TDs).

Compare that to Cal's offense: First in rushing (247.8 ypg, 14 rushing TDs, 5.9 yards per rush), first in scoring (40.8 ppg, 5.75 TDs per game), first in total offense (510 ypg, 7.6 yards per play).

Let's put this into a little perspective. Cal averages 510 yards per game, but UW and Arizona COMBINED average 636 yards per game. Cal averages 7.6 yards per play; the next best offense gets 5.6 per play, and UW and Arizona average 4.6 yards per play. In four games, Cal has more TDs than any other Pac-10 team, ALL of which have played five games.

UCLA's rush defense of 250 yards per game compares to Cal's league-leading 88 yards per game allowed. The conference average for rushing defense (not including UCLA) is 122 yards per game.

When Cal has the ball, they should let the horses run. It's my belief that if Arrington and Lynch can get past the DL (and with Cal's big, powerful OL they certainly will), they can run right over the linebackers. The passing game should be used to keep the safeties honest against the run.

When UCLA has the ball, it is much the same story except it's not awesome running game against woeful defense, it's awesome running game against awesome defense. This is the best defense UCLA will have faced (although I admit I have not watched Ok St this year).

UCLA's line, like Cal's, is big and experienced. They average 326 pounds and, I believe, have more experience than USC's line. They're also tall, and everyone says that Drew slides behind them until he sees a hole, and then it's too late for the defenders to catch him. Since his seven TD runs have AVERAGED over 46 yards each, I would agree with that generally.

UCLA averages 5.6 yards a carry, very close to Cal's average and more than a yard more than the next Pac-10 team. The Bruins have 11 rushing TDs (seven by Drew from long distance, four in the red zone) and get 445 yards a game overall. They're 4th in the conference in scoring with 32.4 points per game overall and 35.5 ppg in their last four games.

Their passing offense, however, is not so awesome. QB Drew Olson has 8 passing TDs and 5 interceptions, and the bruins are just 8th in the conference at 204 yards per game. Olson also hits on just 57% of his passes (Rodgers has a stunning 76.8% completion rate, with over 80% in his past three games, and has thrown 9 TDs to just 2 interceptions). It should be noted that both Cal and UCLA have way fewer passing attempts than other Pac-10 teams because of their powerful running games. Cal averages 25 attempts per game, and UCLA averages 26. The rest of the conference average 36 pass attempts per game.

In addition, both Cal and UCLA have strong pass defenses. Both have 4 interceptions. Cal has allowed 4 passing TDs in 4 games, but UCLA has allowed just 3 passing TDs in five games. Cal allows 5.6 yards per attempt, UCLA 5.4 (OSU is best in the conference at 5.3). Cal allows 10.8 yards per completion, UCLA 10.1.

In short, this game is about two awesome rushing attacks and which defense will do a better job of stopping the other. Cal has the serious edge in this matchup. Most of the other statistical categories are a wash or further illustrate the difference in the defenses: Cal allows opponents just 14.5 first downs a game, whereas UCLA allows 22 per game. Cal has 3 sacks a game, but UCLA has just 4 sacks in 5 games against some of the worst offenses around.

There is one other edge the Bruins have: Their special teams are quite good. They have yet to miss a field goal (7 of 7) and have good kicking and punting games. Cal is no slouch in that area but is last in field goals (1 of 3) and kickoff coverage (23.6 yards per KO return, no thanks to Reggie Bush).

All in all, I have to give this matchup to Cal in a big win 9 out of 10 times, with the 10th a close game decided by a field goal. This is homecoming for Cal, fresh off a frustrating loss that will focus them. They have no reason to look past the Bruins to Arizona. UCLA, however, will be up for the north/south rivalry and will want to prove they can play with a good team and not just push cupcakes around.

The Bears, though, are just too good and too focused to let this be that 10th game decided by a field goal. Not this year, not with 65,000 fans hungry for Bruin, not with the Rose Bowl on the line every game, not with Tedford calling the shots. I think Cal wins this one going away, 45-28.

Go Bears!

October 11, 2004

Having It Both Ways (flip-flopping?)

Bush has so little to run on that he can't even stick to his attacks on "his opponent." (By the way, why does he refuse to refer to Senator Kerry by his name but consistently call him, "my opponent"? Is it meant to be a snub? Is it meant to mean that the race is between Bush and whoever shows up that day?)

The Republicans spent the early summer trying to smear Kerry's war record in Vietnam. They've given up on that because it's hard to support the troops in Iraq when you're denigrating the service of a volunteer who has three purple hearts from Vietnam.

They spent the later summer branding Kerry a flip-flopper, gleefully quoting the "I voted for it before I voted against it" sound bite at every possible turn.

Now, when the public is tiring of that attack and beginning to see through it by finally beginning to understand Kerry's war position, the Republicans are backing off the flip-flop tag in favor of consistency: consistently liberal.

If Bush can't be counted on to be steadfast and resolute in his position on John Kerry, how can he be counted on to be steadfast and resolute in the "war on terror"? The Republican Party has more people dedicated to more lines of attack on John Kerry than they have on Osama bin Laden. They've flipped and flopped on their way to finding out that Kerry is much tougher and more resolute than they ever expected.

Bush spends so much time and effort twisting reality about Iraq, twisting reality about Kerry, twisting reality about the economy, twisting reality about everything, that through his eyes, the world must look like some strange, unholy mixture of Dali surrealism and Escher relativity. When Bush administration officials speak these days, reality takes a very strange shape indeed.

October 8, 2004

Debt and Taxes

The following paragraph is pulled directly from an article in the Washington Post on October 8, 2004.

When Bush took office in January 2001, the government was forecasting a $5.6 trillion budget surplus between then and 2011. Instead, it is now expecting to accumulate an extra $3 trillion in debt -- including a record $415 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The government has to borrow an average of more than $1.1 billion a day to pay its bills, and it spends more on interest payments on the federal debt each year -- about $159 billion -- than it does on education, homeland security, justice and law enforcement, veterans, international aid, and space exploration combined.

That last sentence is truly amazing. Bush has pushed for and signed into law several tax cuts worth hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. Those tax cuts, it is well documented, benefit the richest 1% of Americans. That means that for most working families, the tax cut amounts to a few hundred dollars a year, if that.

By cutting taxes and raising the deficit (and therefore the debt), Bush is in effect increasing spending on interest. As the Post states, interest spending accounts for more than the federal spending on education, homeland security, law enforcement, and veterans combined.

Bush: Tough on terrorism, protecting America. "Doing everything [he] can" to protect America and American citizens.

Bush: The Education president. No child left behind.

Bush: Supporting our troops and veterans.

Bush's actions expose the lie of his campaign rhetoric. Bush clearly feels that the government should borrow money and pay the interest on it in order to allow the richest Americans to stay rich. When the budget fights flare up, what will get cut? Interest on the debt? Now there's a good idea: Borrow more money to pay the interest you already owe. No, the interest must be paid every year. That means that something else must be cut.

Bush: The education president, tough on terrorism, supporting our troops, protecting America.

If Bush cared about education, he'd fund education instead of interest. If he cared about fighting terrorism and homeland security, he'd fund that instead of interest.

Tax cuts mean that the government has to pay more interest on more debt, which means fewer actual services provided. Bush is hoping, of course, that the richest 1% of Americans will invest their billions of dollars in tax cuts and create jobs here in America. So far that has not happened, and don't hold your breath. The rich didn't get rich by being good at sharing. They got rich by being good at looking out for Number One. Sometimes that means hiring, sometimes it means hoarding. In our economy, it means hoarding.

Bush's tax cuts are simply bad for the economy, bad for government, and bad for the country.

The Republican Party has done a great job of branding "liberals" as "tax and spend." In reality, for the past 20 years, Democrats have been "tax and balance" while Republicans have been "borrow and spend." A Democrat balanced the budget after Reagan's borrowing spree. Let's hope the same thing happens now, or the federal government may eventually collapse under the weight of the debt burden it's carrying.

October 7, 2004

Cal at USC

According to the media, this is going to be a great game. For once, the media are 100% right.

I've spent hours looking at statistics trying to figure out whether either team has a distinct advantage over the other, and I can't find anything that really sets one as a clear favorite. The closest anything comes is USC's 9 interceptions in four games and overall +2.25 turnover ratio per game. This is not a fluke as they have a dominant middle defense (two all-America quality DTs, very gifted linebacking corps, two top safeties returning). I think this entire game hinges on turnovers. If Cal ends up negative on turnovers, they WILL lose. If USC ends up negative on turnovers, they are likely to lose.

Now, to the analysis:
USC is #1 in both polls and in the Sagarin ratings with a 93.41 score. Cal is #7 in both polls and #5 in Sagarin's ratings at 88.72. With the home advantage in Sagarin's formula, USC is an 8 point favorite. 92,000 fans are expected for the game. Quoth Tedford: "The biggest crowd I've ever seen." Tedford's teams have a tendency to play better in front of big crowds, especially big, hostile crowds. I do not see the crowd or the venue as a distinct advantage for USC.

If anyone doubts that USC deserves their ranking and rating, though, understand some things:
- USC have not trailed at the end of regulation in 25 straight games
- USC have a 16-game home winning streak
- USC have a 13-game win streak overall
- During the win streak, Leinart has thrown 38 TDs and 5 interceptions
- USC are averaging a +2.25 turnover ratio with 9 interceptions

This year's USC team is legitimately strong and a legitimate national championship contender. They have a player in the national top-25 in 9 of the 13 categories. USC as a team are in the top 25 nationally in 9 of the 13 categories and in the top 15 in five categories. That's significant after four games--it may change as their schedule gets tougher in the Pac-10, but it's unlikely to change much.

USC have beaten four teams this year with only Stanford giving them a real scare. Virginia Tech also hung in there with USC until mid 3rd quarter, but USC is bigger, stronger, faster, and fitter than most teams. USC is a team that could play a 90-minute game and still have gas in the tank. Most teams aren't that fit and are going to get worn down by USC by the 4th quarter. This is one reason USC has given up 10 points average in the first half yet only 2.5 points average in the second half. (They've scored 28 points average in both the 1st and 2nd halves.)

The point is, no matter how good you are, you should not get overconfident against the Trojans.

On the other hand, as good as Cal is, they should be confident that they match up well and have as good a shot to win this game as the Trojans do.

USC's opponents have been Virginia Tech (roughly equivalent to Oregon State probably), Stanford (better than Va Tech but nowhere near as good as Cal), BYU (not good), and Colorado State (woeful, about equivalent to Air Force). USC have played better teams, on average, than Cal, but not significantly better teams. New Mexico State is the worst of the entire bunch, but statistically that game turned out the same for Cal as the other two games.

Cal matches up physically well against USC. USC is the biggest, strongest, fittest team Cal has faced, but the two teams are probably evenly matched. USC's O line is HUGE, averaging 317 pounds, including 370-pound TD Taitusi Lutui (the 350-pound John Drake is on the other side at LG). Cal's O line averages 312 pounds. No matter which color you wear on Saturday, your team will be facing a mirror image: big O line, top QB, to running back, strong returning defense, good coaching, overall a hellishly fit and deep team that will trade you blow-for-blow all day long and well into the night if that's what it takes.

Statistically, Cal has a slight edge, but as I said earlier, USC have played tougher competition.

Nationall, Cal has players in the top 25 in 5 of the 13 categories. As a team, Cal is in the top 25 in 11 of the 13 categories and leads the nation in scoring offense and passing efficiency. Cal is top-15 in 9 of the 15 categories.

Cal leads the Pac-10 in
- rush offense
- total offense
- scoring offense
- passing defense
- total defense
- scoring defense

USC does not lead the Pac-10 in any statistical category at this point but is #2 or #3 in
- rush offense (3)
- total offense (3)
- scoring offense (2)
- rush defense (2)
- total defense (3)
- scoring defense (2)

According to the statistics, Cal has a better offense than USC. The stats for both teams are gaudy and impressive. Some highlights:
- Cal scores 7 touchdowns A GAME, USC scores five
- Cal has 278 yards/game rushing, USC has 200
- Cal gains 6.7 yards/rush, USC gains 5.0 per rush
- Cal has 13 rushing TDs (4.3/game), USC has 11 (2.75/game)
- Cal has 73% pass completion, USC has 67.7%
- Cal gains 12.2 yards/att, USC gains 8.2
- Both teams have 8 passing TDs and 2 INT
- Cal has 261 yards/game passing, USC has 255.8
- Both teams get about 24 first downs per game
- Both teams have about 55% 3rd-down conversion, though
- USC has 14.5 3rd downs each game to Cal's 9.3

Here is perhaps the most impressive Cal statistic:
Cal is 100% in the red zone with 12 touchdowns in 12 opportunities. They tried (and missed) one field goal, but it was over 50 yards.

USC, however, is a very mortal 64% in the red zone with just 13 TDs and 1 field goal in 22 opportunities.

Again, the statistics are very similar. The defensive edge goes to USC, however. Highlights:
- Cal gives up 1.7 TDs a game (0 FG), USC 1.5 (plus 0.75 FG/gm)
- Cal gives up 103 rush yards/game, USC just 86.5
- Cal gives up 2.6 yards per rush, USC gives up 3.0
- Cal gives up 158.3 yards/gm passing, USC 190.8
- Cal has given up 2 passing TDs, USC 4
- Cal has captured 3 interceptions, USC 9
- Cal gives up 15 first downs a game, USC gives up 19
- Cal gets 2.7 sacks/game, USC gets an impressive 4 sacks/game

In the red zone on defense, Cal has allowed 4 TDs and 0 field goals in 6 attempts. USC has allowed 4 TDs and 2 field goals in 8 attempts. Thus, each team has allowed an average of two opportunities a game, but USC is slightly better at keeping the opponent out of the end zone.

All in all, this is a beautiful matchup and will be a very difficult win for either team. USC has motivation from last year's loss and the home crowd; Cal has motivation because as one Cal lineman said this week, "USC is where we want to be," and the team still has something to prove.

I really think this game could go either way and will depend on turnovers. I think whoever gains more turnovers will win. If there are no turnovers in the game, however, I like Cal's chances. USC will not have the luxury of relying on fitness to overwhelm Cal in the 4th quarter like they did to Virginia Tech and Stanford, and they may have trouble keeping Cal from scoring in the first half. On the other side, USC is balanced but is not as strong a passing team as you might think. The Bears need to maintain discipline and not give up the big play, especially from USC territory.

USC will put a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers, particularly with a strong pass rush up the middle and blitzing linebackers. He has to be careful not to force throws because those safeties will pick them off. I think Tedford may try to move Rodgers around to slow down the pressure, or go with more quick routes and screens to draw the LBs in and put the ball just beyond them.

In any case, don't leave early. No matter what happens in the first half, both coaches are more than capable of adjusting and changing the game in the second half, and the players will all be fit enough to play hard right to the end. I think this game could go into overtime again, in which case I like Cal's chances. But really I think it will be won in the last 2-3 minutes.

I am hoping, more than predicting, this will be a Cal victory. I like the Bears' chances, but there are good reasons USC is a 7-point favorite. Still, I'll go out on a limb and say that Cal will win this one, 35-28. I will also say that Cal will score first and take a lead into halftime, but USC will tie it. Cal will get the final touchdown near the end of the game to break the tie.

Go Bears!

October 6, 2004

Cheney, Khadafi, Halliburton, and All That

In last night's vice presidential debate, Cheney praised the progress in Libya after the invasion of Iraq: Khadafi has announced his intention to close down his WMD programs and turn over all his nuclear material to the United States. These are great steps forward, but Newsweek has an interesting short piece in this week's issue that makes Khadafi look more like a shrewd businessman than a born-again peacenik. Consider:

  • Oil prices are at a record high $50 a barrel
  • Violence and instability have hurt oil production in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Iraq
  • Libya has confirmed reserves of 36 billion barrels of "sweet oil"
  • Libya is only 25% explored for oil
Bush has recently lifted "a raft of sanctions" on Libya despite Libya still being on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The result is that American oil companies are now free to negotiate with Khadafi for rights to his oil, and Halliburton is now free to work with Khadafi directly instead of through an offshort, German subsidiary.

Remember in September, 2001, when Bush said, "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists"? Khadafi has been with the terrorists for years and has a proven, storied, and well documented history of supporting terrorists and attacks on Americans. The US government says Libya sponsors terrorism.

A cynic would say that Bush has opened Libya up to big American corporations for oil. A Bush-backer would say that Khadafi got religion ever since we kicked Saddam's ass, and now he's terrified we'll kick his ass. A leopard does not change his spots, and Khadafi is a clever, shrewd, America-hater who will gladly take American corporate money and hand it over to terrorists to blow up, kidnap, and behead Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever the conflict is.

This is the administration talking out both sides of their... mouths, again. Let's review:
  • Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 attacks or Al Quaida.
  • Khadafi has funded terrorists and attacks on Americans.
  • Iraq vehemently said they were disarming and had no WMDs. The weapons inspectors found no evidence of WMDs before, during, or after the invasion. Bush's conclusion: Saddam hid them or moved them out of the country before the invasion.
  • Khadafi has said he is disarming and has no WMDs. He has turned over some nuclear materials. Bush's conclusion: Send in the oil companies to work with our new friend!
It's hard to be a liberal under this administration. Liberals, by our very nature, are anti-cynical. We try to believe everyone means good even if it doesn't look that way. Yet again and again, Bush and Cheney and the whole crew say one thing and do another (with astounding consistency), and mislead the public with half-truths, stretched truths, or outright lies (like when Cheney said the vice presidential debate was the first time he'd ever met John Edwards; in fact, it was the third time they'd met).

What principles, exactly, is Bush using when he encourages American companies to do business with a country that is on the State Department's list of countries sponsoring terrorism? What principles, exactly, lead to war and devestation in Iraq but acceptance and welcome for Libya?

One final note:
9/11 did not "change everything." The US did not suddenly become vulnerable because we were attacked. The attack was an event, a dreadful and terrible affront to all civilized people everywhere. The USA was not suddenly more vulnerable on September 12, 2001 than we were on September 10, 2001. Some things have to change, mostly in port security, financial governance, corporate ethics, anti-terrorism enforcement at home, and intelligence gathering and analysis abroad. Bush did not want to know what really needed fixing--he opposed the mere existence of the 9/11 Commission.

The invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and catch or kill bin Laden was the right call--it was the easy call, the onlycall. Invading Iraq was a terrible error where the catastrophic results have far outweighed any potential gain in the "war on terror." The "war on terror" will not be fought with tanks and aircraft carriers in the deserts of Iraq but in the dark places where the terrorists work and live, the places that spies go and the newspapers don't hear about. We are no more in danger today of terrorists releasing biological weapons in Chicago and San Francisco and New York than we were when Tom Clancy wrote about it in Executive Orders in 1997, four years before the 9/11 attacks. And I believe that we are no safer from those things today than we were on September 12, 2001. Bush invaded Iraq when he should have been pouring that $200 billion into homeland security, intelligence, and anti-terrorism enforcement.

Bush simply does not know how to fight the war on terror. Resolute and tough, yes, but blind and incompetent as well. The combination make for a good bully but a bad Commander-in-Chief.

October 1, 2004

What's Wrong with Americans, and Bush's Holy War

Two highlights jump out at me in the aftermath of last night's debate. First, Bush views the problems in Iraq as a personal test of his faith in God. Second, that Americans have no idea what "foreign policy" is.

On the first point: Bush kept using terms like "this test" to describe what's going on in Iraq. He finished with the very biblical "We've climbed the mighty mountain. I see the valley below, and it's a valley of peace." He may very well recognize the problems in Iraq right now, but he's stuck in a place of faith--he's the type of person who sees these as trials from God to test his faith, not as problems in the world to be dealt with by changing policies and tactics. Very scary when the most powerful man in the world thinks of the world as his own grand test of faith.

On the second point: The rest of the world overwhelmingly thought Kerry won the debate and would make a very good leader of America. Why would they think that when so many Americans think Bush is better on foreign policy. I think it's because most Americans, particularly in the "red state" areas and rural regions, have been so isolated in their thought, their experience, and their education that they simply don't understand the nuances (that word again!) of the world. The rest of the world--Europe, Asia, Africa, pretty much everywhere--has had thousands of years of tribal and inter-country conflict, commerce, and diplomacy. European monarchs were visiting the Pope on political errands a thousand years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Treaties were being forged and broken and re-forged a thousand years before the first pilgrims settled in Plymoth.

Most Americans are woefully ignorant of geography beyond their own state, let alone in the world. These same Americans suffer from an arrogance born out of that ignorance, an arrogance that makes America right whenever the rest of the world disagrees, that says Americans are more intelligent and capable than the rest of the world because we've been so economically powerful for the past hundred years.

Yet foreign policy is more than bluster, arrogance, and declaring the United Nations "irrelevant" as Bush did before blundering into Iraq. Bush is a bully in international politics, not a diplomat. Americans seem to prefer the bully role, however, so Bush does well in the less cosmopolitan and more politically immature parts of the country. The rest of the world, matured on thousands of years of living in small, disparate areas and populations, has learned that Kerry's approach is the only one that can be effective in this new global economy, the new global political environment, the new global power structure.

Bush, the arrogant bully who views the problems in Iraq as his own personal faith-test from God, is the wrong choice for America. The rest of the world sees it. Why can't Americans? Sometimes the rest of the world can be right.