October 30, 2006

they totally rock

Last night's Evanescence concert at the Warfield in San Francisco totally kicked ass. I just had to say that. I haven't been to a real concert since college (I saw Squeeze at the Greek Theater in Berkeley). Amy Lee is awesome. She rocks.

October 26, 2006

2,809 and counting...

It's worth repeating. 2,809 American soldiers killed in the Iraq war. See them. Read how and where they lived. Read how and where they died.

It is time for new leadership in this country. Regime change begins in November.

October 21, 2006

Sold Again!

Today I got my third acceptance for publication. This was a long time in the waiting but a very happy conclusion. The journal is THEMA, a small lit mag out of the Gulf Coast region. They were displaced by Katrina and are recovering, but slowly. My short story entitled "Joseph's Mother" will appear in the Spring 2007 issue, for which the theme is "rage over a lost penny."

Although their profile on WritersMarket.com says their circulation is a mere 350, the writeup they received in The Writer magazine back in late spring or early summer might have impacted that. And, they actually pay. Which is nice.

October 17, 2006

home again, home again

Even with Isaiah Stanback, the Huskies would have had two chances to win this weekend: slim and fat. Take Stanback (the Pac-10's #2 player in total offense) out, however, and the Huskies really look to have an insurmountable task on Saturday. (If you didn't know, Stanback--the heart of the Huskies' offense and a big reason they are 4-3 overall--is out, probably for the season.)

Shed no tears for the Pac's puppies from the north, however. With ASU and Stanford still on their home schedule, I am confident the Huskies will play in a bowl game this year, even without Stanback. That would make me happy as they are my second favorite Pac-10 team, and I will root for them every weekend but this one.

You don't need to know much about the stats or schedules to see how this one will shake out, though. The Bears should dominate on offense and, especially with Stanback out, dominate on defense.

The Bears possess the conference's #1 or #2 offense, depending on what yardsticks you use. Cal and Oregon are #1 or #2 in the four major offensive categories: Rushing (Oregon #1, Cal #2), Passing (Cal #1, Oregon #2), Total Offense (Oregon #1, Cal #2), and Scoring (Cal #1, Oregon #2). In addition, the Bears present the conference's leading rusher (Lynch, with 108 yards per game and 6.8 yards per carry), most efficient passer (Longshore, with 63.3% completion, 17 TDs, and 7 interceptions), top all-purpose producer (Lynch, with 146 yards per game including kickoff returns), and top TD scorer (Jackson, with 10 TDs). Jackson, the league's best game-breaker, is also #7 in receptions per game, #3 in receiving yards per game, #5 in all-purpose yards per game, #2 in overall scoring per game, and #2 in punt return average.

The Bears score a remarkable five touchdowns per game and average 6.5 yards per play. The Bears lead the league in first downs and have +5 turnovers in their 7 games. Only Oregon and USC protect the QB better (Cal has given up only 8 sacks in 7 games). Finally, while the Bears rank 3rd in red zone offense, they are the most efficient at getting points there with 17 TDs in 22 appearances (77%). And as Mr. Dempster pointed out last week, the Bears don't need a layover in the red zone to visit the end zone through the air; they have 10 passing TDs from outside the red zone. An explosive and efficient offense if ever there was one.

WSU had pretty good defensive statistics with some pretty good players. The Huskies, however, give up 24 points per game (7th in conference). They have the league's worst pass defense with a very generous 7.8 yards per pass (worst in the league) and 250 yards per game. Only ASU gives up more passing TDs per game than UW, and I'm betting they will flip-flop after this weekend. Their rushing defense will not measure up either, though their 3.7 yards allowed per carry is better than Cal's 3.9. UW is 9th in total defense, giving up 371 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play. (Compare to Cal, however, which is 8th at 366 yards per game and an equivalent 5.7 yards per play.)

What's the difference? Simply put, the Bears don't let the other team score. Cal has by far the best red zone defense in the conference. Only UCLA has allowed fewer red zone touchdowns, but they've played one fewer games. The Bears have allowed only 8 TDs in 18 opponent opportunities. We all heard about (or read about) the goal line stand last week after Thompson hurtled down the field to save a long touchdown. We know the Bears have supreme confidence when they have a short field to defend. Without Stanback, we may never see UW in Cal's red zone anyway, but if they get there, the Bears will keep them out of the end zone.

Cal also has the league's best punt team, though this game is never going to be about field position. The Bears are also near the top in punt and kickoff returns while the Huskies wallow at 7th in all the kicking and return categories.

But it's not like UW has built their 4-3 record on a diet of creampuffs, right? After all, Sagarin rates their schedule 11th toughest in the nation (Cal's is rated 3rd toughest). They've already faced (and lost to) Oklahoma and USC, both on the road. Their other loss was to a reasonably talented and highly motivated Oregon State team last week. Their wins were over SJSU (6 points), Fresno State (1 point), UCLA (10 points), and Arizona (11 points on the road). They still have to face Cal and Oregon on the road but get ASU and Stanford at home, then finish up by visiting WSU.

This is not a record that inspires fear. It is not an offense that looks like it could break out on any given play. It is not a defense headlined by a couple of outstanding players holding teams under 15 points per game four games running. In short, this 4-3 team from the Pacific Northwest is very different from the other 4-3 team from the same state. Sagarin's algorithms predict a 21-point victory for the Bears. That to me seems a bit low, but it's not unreasonable considering we may see Ayoob in the 3rd quarter and Levy in the 4th. We may be treated to Marcus O'Keith gaining 6 yards a carry throughout the fourth quarter to run down the clock.

In short, this is predicted to be a blowout, and I see no reason it won't be, particularly with the offense coming off a poor performance and the defense fired up and faced with a backup quarterback.

The biggest question on Saturday night will be, how will we survive a bye week with no Cal football on Saturday the 28th?

I'm saying Cal 42, UW 13.

Go Bears!

October 12, 2006

not the end of the world but you can see it from there...

Until I read it today, I hadn't realized that Tedford has never appeared in Pullman as a head coach. Two years Cal did not meet WSU, and two years the Cougars came to Berkeley. This means that although the Bears have not won in Pullman since 1979, they also are unbeaten in Pullman in the last five years.

I think that the Bears win this game 9 out of 10 times. I just can't shake the feeling, though, that this has the same feel as the game when Cal beat USC in Berkeley lo these many years ago. USC underestimated the Bears, but Cal had seen similar top-notch competition (Kansas State) early in the year. The Bears were at home, ravenous for a signature game, ready to break out.

If you read cyberbears, Bear fans are certainly looking right past WSU. It's a checkmark on the list, a stamp in their Pac-10 passports. Oh, we'll say "one game at a time" and all that, but truth be told, very few Cal fans think much of WSU. But in fact, they were quite possibly the best 1-7 team in Pac-10 history last year. They lost by three to Stanford, UCLA, ASU, and Oregon, and they lost by four to Cal. Every week it seemed they were on the verge of a big win, but they never got one (can't really call beating UW last year a "big" win).

This year they're 4-2, and one of their losses was their opener on the road at Auburn. If we can write off the Tennessee game, then we have to give them similar respect. Which means that they are 4-1 in games that count, with the one loss a reasonably close affair against USC at home (28-22).

This one has "upset" written ALL OVER it, folks.

The big talk in Berkeley this week? The banana uniforms. The team is either loose or overconfident--it's impossible to tell which. No TV to pump up the Bears. The smallest crowd in the Pac-10 (yes, even smaller than Stanford--WSU averages a league-worst 35,302 per game). WSU homecoming day. The Palouse... it's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. A talented, underrated team ravenous for a signature win...

This one is either a nail-biter to the end or the biggest blowout of the season. I'm hoping the latter, but I'm afraid it will be the former.

OK, on to stats: In the stats, the Bears clearly own offensive superiority. No doubt about it: Cal scores nearly 40 points per game (5th nationally) to WSU's 26. The Bears are 11th nationally in pass offense and 8th nationally in total offense. But wait! WSU is 24th nationally in passing offense and 17th in total offense. So the superiority may not be so clear. Let's dig deeper:

Cal nets 6.8 yards per play, best in the Pac-10. WSU is third, however, at 5.8 yards per play. The Bears have scored 27 offensive TDs to WSU's 19, so that's a big difference. Cal has 18 TD passes to just 6 interceptions, but WSU is nearly as good with 13 TDs to just 5 interceptions in the same number of games. Both teams are just above 60% completion rate. We know Cal has a great passing offense; WSU also has a very good passing offense.

Similarly, both teams are good at running the ball. Cal nets 4.9 yards per carry and 167 yards per game, but WSU is right behind at 4.5 yards per carry and 162 yards per game. Both teams also have positive turnover margin. Cal leads with +6 (+1.0 per game) with WSU at +2 (+.33 per game).

WSU is #1 in the Pac in first downs with 135 in 6 games; Cal is right behind with 130. Both the Bears and WSU are around 43% in 3rd down conversions. WSU has allowed 12 sacks to Cal's 7, but they're slightly better in time of possession. The real difference may be in the red zone, where Cal has scored 14 TDs in 19 appearances (plus 2 field goals). WSU has 14 TDs in 27 appearances plus 6 field goals. Three of their fumbles have come in the opponent's red zone, and their red zone TDs are overwhelmingly through the air.

All this says to me that the Bears had better be ready for a team that will attack with a very strong passing game. They will get big yardage and will probably score a few. Although Jason Hill injured his shoulder last week, it looks likely he will play. Against ASU and Oregon, the Bears faced inexperienced quarterbacks who got rattled under pressure and gave up big turnovers. Don't expect the same hospitality from Alex Brink. The best way to keep WSU from scoring will be to keep their offense off the field.

But that may not be an easy task, either. Everyone is raving about WSU's underrated defense, which has held four opponents under 15 points (their four wins). The Cougars allow a miserly 18 points per game (3 better than Cal's 21 ppg allowed). They are strong against the run, holding opponents to 3.3 yards per carry and just 98.8 yards per game. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Auburn's Kenny Irons in their opener. Cal, meanwhile, is just 7th in the Pac-10 against the run, allowing 3.8 yards per carry and 131 yards per game.

Like Cal, however, WSU has a weaker pass defense... at least at first glance. They give up 221 passing yards per game (better than Cal's 238), bu they are more efficient, collecting one interception per game and allowing just one passing TD per game. The Bears, meanwhile, are a big-play defense: 10 passing TDs allowed, but 11 interceptions grabbed. WSU leads the nation in sacks with 27 (4.5 per game!). The Bears have been improving in that category and are 5th in the conference with 16 QBs bagged. The Bears are good at protecting Lonshore, though, giving up a little more than one sack per game.

WSU also has the better red zone defense, giving up just 8 TDs in 20 opponent appearances. The Bears have given up 8 TDs in 15 appearances. So... does that mean WSU is better in the red zone, or does that mean the Bears are better at keeping opponents out of the red zone? Hmmm...

So, these teams are remarkably similar. How about their competition? WSU has a blowout loss in their opener at Auburn and a close loss to USC at home. Their wins came at Stanford and Oregon State, and at home against Idaho and Baylor. Their win last week at Reser Stadium was 13 to 6. Certainly, Cal fared better in Corvallis.

Finally, a quick look at turnovers and special teams. I have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that says, one of these days the Bears are not going to benefit from a lot of turnovers by the opponent. One of these days, the opponent is going to protect the ball. I worry that it will be WSU on Saturday, and the Bears will have to prove they can finish a close game in the second half.

On special teams, the Bears appear to have the hands-down advantage. Cal is 3rd in the league in kickoff returns, and WSU is 9th in kickoff coverage. Maybe this week will be the week the Bears run one all the way back. On the other side, the Bears are 7th in kickoff coverage but WSU is only #8 in kickoff returns, so it's a wash there. Both teams punt well: WSU is 4th with a net of 35.5 yards per punt and 1 touchback, while Cal leads the Pac with 38.3 yards per punt with 3 touchbacks. Cal has the league's second-best punt return average at 14.8 yards per return, however, and is one of two teams with two punts returned for touchdowns. WSU, however, gets only 5.8 yards per return and has not (yet) run one back all the way.

All in all, I do think the Bears win this game 9 times out of 10. The talent and depth is simply awesome, and the defense appears to be improving each week. I think Cal has played a tougher schedule, though not THAT much tougher.

I think this game hinges entirely on two things: First, Cal's defense shutting down WSU's passing game. They don't have to keep Brink and Hill from getting yards... they have to keep Hill out of the end zone. Some of that will be pressure, and the middle of the O line is where their inexperience is. The Bears need a good push in the middle of the line to disrupt Brink's pocket and rush his passes.

The other thing this game hinges on is Cal's ability to protect the ball. If the Bears suffer minus-two or worse in turnovers, they will lose. If they hold on to the ball and don't get sloppy, they should roll.

I am hoping for the blowout victory, of course, but I think this one won't have the benefit of a first-play-from-scrimmage turnover. We can't count on the Cougars imploding the way the Ducks did last week, and I think they will play tough for all four quarters. In the end, though, this is not that tenth game out of ten that the Cougs win. It is maybe the fourth game out of ten, which is still a Cal victory, with the final score Cal 38 WSU 28.

Go Bears!

October 5, 2006

duck season is open, too

It's obvious this Saturday's game pits two extraordinary teams against each other. But something's gotta give. Cal's time of possession is 28:43 per game, and Oregon's is 27:26 per game. Unless the game is called early, one of the two teams will have to come in over their average.

OK, just a few notes this week. Basically, this Oregon offense looks, on paper, like the best offense in the Pac-10. Check it out: The conference's leading passer, leading rusher, leader in receptions per game, leader in receiving yards per game, and leader in scoring all play for Oregon. Some other scary stats: Oregon leads the league in scoring at 40.2 points per game. They're also #1 in rushing offense (227 ypg) and total offense (497 ypg). Oregon gets the most first downs per game of any Pac-10 team. They are #2 in red zone offense, scoring 21 times out of 23 tries, with 16 of those being touchdowns. They average an astounding 6.2 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per play. And they have allowed just one sack in their four games. It's not like they've played a bunch of patsies, either.

Cal is no slouch on offense, though, sporting the league's most efficient passer, the league's leader in touchdowns scored, and the league's leader in all-purpose yardage. The Bears are right behind Oregon in scoring offense (38.4 ppg) and total offense (452 ypg). The Bears are a skitch better in the red zone, scoring on 13 of 14 opportunities with 11 of those being TDs. Someone on cyberbears analyzed the two teams' big play tendencies, and although I don't have the stats, it went something like this: Cal had a lot more big plays (over 20 yards) than Oregon. Apparently, this means Cal is a more explosive offense while Oregon is more a constant mover.

It's on the defensive side of the ball where Oregon appears to outclass the Bears--at least, statistically. Oregon has the league's leading tackler and has the league's best and most efficient pass defense. They've allowed just three passing TDs in four games and hold opponents to a miserly 50% completion and 5.3 yards per pass. Their run defense is suspect, though, as they give up 163 ypg and 4.3 yards per carry.

The Bears, meanwhile, appear to allow teams to walk up and down the field but don't let them into the end zone. Cal is #9 in the conference in pass defense and #7 in rush defense. While they lead the league in interceptions (Hughes has five of the team's eight), they have given up a league-worst 8 passing touchdowns and allow 7.7 yards per pass. Only Stanford has worse total defense stats as Cal gives up 5.7 yards per play and 370 yards per game (both #9). But the Bears are #4 in the conference in scoring defense at 20.4 points per game. (Oregon allows 20.0 ppg.) So they're doing something right. Indeed, the Bears are #2 in red zone defense, allowing just 6 TDs in 12 opportunities.

The only other stat that jumps out at me (besides the all-important Time Of Possession, noted above) is turnover ratio. The Bears are +3 on the season, but the Ducks are -1.

This is bound to be a close game. Recent history has the Ducks winning 8 of the last 9 games, with Cal's only win in that stretch two years ago in Berkeley when the Duck TE dropped an easy pass that would have given Oregon a chip-shot field goal for the win. But the last three games have all been close nail-biters, and this one should be no different. I only wish I could be there.

I honestly don't understand how Cal is a 5 point favorite unless there are injuries I'm not taking into account. I know the Bears have the talent to win this game, but I'd call it even. Given the offensive propensities, I think Cal might have a slight game planning edge--the Bears appear to have more explosive capabilities and may be able to focus on the running game more. Meanwhile, Oregon's offense may be unable to fully exploit Cal's youth at DB to provide explosive plays--the Bears have tremendous speed on defense and have proven to be good tacklers when they get their paws on a ball carrier.

I think perhaps this game is the single biggest reason Tedford hired a new Offensive Coordinator. Tedford got too predictable last year and second-guessed himself too much against the Ducks. resulting in a very flat offense. Having a new guy throwing curve balls at Bellotti can only help the Bears. Plus, the Bears have serious momentum after four beautiful games. But Oregon still has something to prove after The Replay two weeks ago. They spanked little poser ASU last week, but that's not enough for them. If they want to be part of the nation's elite, they need to wipe out that Oklahoma memory with a pasting of one of the big boys. Motivation and momentum and to spare on both sidelines this week.

All in all, this game is huge, and it has all the look of the Cal vs Virginia Tech game a few years ago--a real shootout with the last team having the ball to be the one to win.

I'll go out on the limb and say that the Bears will benefit from two interceptions in the second half and will be able to ride Marshawn's running game to victory. Final score: Bears 38, Ducks 35.


Boy, I wish I could be there.

October 1, 2006

NaNoWriMo site is open

Just one month away from National Novel Writing Month. Their spiffed-up web site is now on line, the forums are open, and the store is stocked with tee shirts and mugs and posters. My day job has commanded so much of my time recently that I have written just a few minutes here and there, but November 1st I sit down and pound out the novel that's been fermenting in my mind for two months already now. Before that, I have two short pieces to write and send off somewhere.

Any of you all who regularly (ahem) read this blog going to join me this year? 50,000 words is not that hard if you have say two hours a day to commit. The trick for me will be to make the 50,000 word goal and to have it be quality work. This will be my third novel. The first was publishable. The second... well, I haven't read it yet, so I don't really know. I think it's a little boring, to be honest, though in sections the writing looks really good. This third one will not only be publishable but will be published (eventually). I have little doubt of that.

Unless, of course, I get hit by a bus or something.