Monday, December 5, 2016

Hangover: JMU blasts New Hampshire; Penn State gets Snubbed (but not really); West Virginia MBB tops UVA



Well that's one way to end a playoff wins drought.


JMU 55, New Hampshire 22


So much for Bryan Schor being rusty. Schor admitted to being a little nervous for his return to Bridgeforth Stadium, but clearly his game didn't suffer any sort of dropoff after missing a few weeks. JMU rolled up 50+ points for the fifth time this season; the team accumulated 500+ yards of offense for the ninth time this season. Brandon Ravenel dominated the New Hampshire secondary in a way that ostensibly ended the game by halftime.

Overall, offense and special teams played a game that's pretty hard to criticize. That includes Tyler Gray, who was a perfect 2/2 on field goals and 7/7 on extra points.

And how about the defense? Before New Hampshire's final drive, the Wildcats had 179 yards of total offense. Yeah. 179. Against JMU's defense. These last few games, it really seems like the 4-2-5 defensive scheme has settled in and caused serious issues for opposing offenses. For the first time in quite a few years, it doesn't feel like the Madison defense is less than the sum of its parts.

I don't want to go too far over the top on praise for the defense. The unit played well, but Trevor Knight also played like garbage, and it was very noticeable. Sometimes, New Hampshire's offensive stagnation was directly tied to good coverage or clogging running lanes up front. Just as often, Knight was just missing passes. I'm not telling you that New Hampshire would have won if Knight could have gotten his shit together, but there were numerous passes where Knight just missed his guy, and the coverage/pass rush had very little to do with it.

That probably won't be the case in a Friday night matchup with Sam Houston State.


#FreetheBand


You'd be forgiven if you couldn't tell while watching on TV, but the absolute turning point in the game was when the referees stopped the game to quiet JMU's band. I've never seen a group of fans so personally offended by the whims of a referee. I've also never seen a referee stop play to warn a band, which makes me think UNH coach may have said something about the band before the game.

The MRD's were noticeably more conservative in picking their spots to play throughout the remainder of the game, but the crowd more than picked up the slack. Right after the announcement, in particular, was the loudest I've ever seen the student section. (The student section, by the way, was not a real student section on Saturday -- it had wayyy more alumni packed into it than usual.)



Either way, the message was clear. Don't fuck with the Marching Royal Dukes, zebras. The student section spent many of the remaining TV timeouts chanting "Free the Band." It was the most spirited I've seen the section since it so relentlessly went after Kevin Grayson in the 2009 Richmond game.

Overall, I was really impressed with the crowd members that actually showed up... but 13,000? Come on, JMU. You can do better than that.

Oh, and let's not forget the two 30-something Dukes fans sitting right behind me that tried to talk shit to my friend Andy for going to the bathroom in between series. "He must be going to change his tampon," the guy said in front of his young kid. And his wife piled on! Can we lock this shit down, JMU fans? Good grief.


Sam Houston and the Benefits of Easy Scheduling


Sam Houston State played a team in September called Oklahoma Panhandle State. That is not a joke. That's the team they opened up against. They won 59-21. OKPS -- I'm guessing that's the appropriate acronym, but obviously, no one worth talking to has any clue how the hell to abbreviate this midwestern masterpiece -- is a Division 2 School that plays in the Lone Star conference. The crown jewel of the OKPS athletic department, and I swear I'm not making this up, is its Varsity Rodeo Team.

Men's and women's teams, obviously. They wouldn't want people to think they're some kind of backward school full of rednecks.

Anyway, back to Sam Houston. It's not a new storyline with these Bearkats. They ran the table in a shitty conference and haven't really proven themselves. They've got a coach (KC Keeler) who thinks it's a travesty that they're only the No. 5 seed. A 56-43 win versus McNeese State is okay, I guess. Their most impressive win is holding on to beat Chattanooga last week 41-36, which I very vocally did not think would happen. Kudos to them for proving me wrong once.


However, I suspect they won't do it again. Sam Houston is an offensively gifted team, and will probably score a good number of points on Friday night. I'm going to say 30+. But their defensive numbers against mediocre teams (27ppg) suggest they will not be able to keep pace with a JMU team that has more playmakers on both sides of the ball. The traditional wisdom is that, in an offensive showdown, it's the defense that ends up making the difference. I'm looking for JMU's improved unit to give up points, but ultimately win the game with big stops in the second half.



West Virginia Locks Up Dana Holgorsen & Gets to 10 Wins



After a 24-21 win over Baylor, Dana took a few shots at the playoff selection committee, wondering aloud if the team didn't get the respect they deserved because they "win ugly." He followed up -- "all this team does is win." Well, except for the two games against Oklahoma teams, but yeah, Dana, your point is well-taken.

I actually have a column coming out this week that'll address this, but I've become increasingly frustrated with criticisms of Dana Holgorsen and Skyler Howard this year. Skyler isn't a perfect quarterback. His spectrum of performance can range from impressive to awful. There are drives where I watch him and go, "Geez, no wonder this guy didn't get any D1 scholarships." He can be frustrating, but when he's on, he's great to watch. I wish people were more patient with him. I wish people didn't boo him.

The Dana criticisms are infuriating though. For all of the descriptors we ascribe to West Virginians, entitled usually isn't one of them. Yet there's a surprisingly vocal portion of the fan base that is used to years of Big East championships and wants to fire Dana for failing to win Big 12 championships. They think West Virginia athletics is the center of the universe. They seem to not understand why wins are so much harder to achieve now, as if winning at Texas and winning at Rutgers were parallel events.

West Virginia football turns 125 this year. Dana Holgorsen just won 10 games for the ninth time in the history of the program. He's done it twice in six years, now, too. And if they can beat Miami -- which they certainly should -- the 2016 Mountaineers will tie the single-season record for 11 wins. (Other people who have coached multiple 10-win seasons in Morgantown: Nehlen, Don; Rodriguez, Rich. That is all.)

What Dana Holgorsen has done is simple in concept but difficult in execution. He's taken a talented-but-flawed regional program and built it into a Power-5 program that's deserving of respect. He's piping more West Virginia players into the NFL than any coach in the history of the program. He's showing growth as a coach. The program is showing growth. And next year, with a blue-chip quarterback available, the Mountaineers very well could challenge for its first Big 12 championship.

This year, with an erratic quarterback and so few returners on defense, was never supposed to be a year for success. Instead, West Virginia's depth and contrarian schemes propelled them to a 10-win regular season. In 2016, this WVU team has won in spite of its quarterback, not because of it. That's how many championship teams are built. It's nice to have more than one way to win these days.

Major congratulations to DH on a job well done. It's been ugly at times, but never unimpressive.

Choose your own Adventure Narrative: Some thoughts on the CFB Playoff Selections


Depending on which teams you like or hate, you can choose any number of complaints to lob into the committee's meeting room down in Texas. 

Some people seem to think Penn State got screwed because it won the Big 10 championship game, but was left out of the playoff. PSU won the best conference in college football, and along the way, they beat a very good Ohio State team that was included in the playoffs.

Also included: No. 4 seed Washington. The Pac-12 champions played bad teams in its out-of-conference schedule and beat them soundly. Meanwhile, PSU played Pitt and Temple, going 1-1 in each of those games. The Nittany Lions also lost to Michigan in conference play by approximately 3 million points.

The narrative was clear. If you want to make the playoff, schedule easy teams and win your conference. Reese Davis and other ESPN commentators recognized this in real time as the rankings were being revealed. It was bandied about quite a bit on Twitter.

I want to make the following counter-argument:


1. Each case is a little different, and trying to assign an overall narrative/scheduling strategy won't hold up over time.

2. Ohio State was included in the playoff because of their OOC wins, directly refuting the idea that easy OOC games are the definitive way to make the playoff.


Everyone knows what happened with Baylor in 2014, and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby wants some sort of crazy explanation as to why Baylor wasn't included two years ago, but Washington and Ohio State were included this year for reasons that seem to fly in the face of the reasons provided against Baylor in 2014. But doesn't it make the most sense to take everything in proper context? 

Ohio State doesn't have the "extra data point" of a conference championship game, but did they need it? The Buckeyes pass the eye test, and they've got multiple wins over Top 10 teams. 

Washington played a bad OOC schedule, but they won a conference championship game and had multiple ranked wins in conference play. In 2014, Baylor didn't really have either.

In the case of Penn State, don't those early losses have to count for something? Additionally, you can give them credit for the Big 10 championship game if you like, but I view championships as a function of a team's greatness -- not an expansion of it. Penn State's win over Wisconsin doesn't hold more merit than Ohio State's win over Wisconsin just because the game was played in December as a "championship" game -- if anything, it's less valuable. Ohio State won at Camp Randall; Penn State won on a neutral field.


Penn State proved a lot of people wrong about how good of a team they were by winning the Big 10 championship. That includes me. But the idea of the playoff is to get the best four teams into the playoff. To me, that means finding a compromise between those who are the best and those who are the most deserving. By the end of the season, Penn State had proved they were at least deserving, but I'm not convinced they were one of the four best teams in the country. To me, the No. 5 ranking felt appropriate, though I wouldn't have had an issue with them at No 4, either. 



MBB: West Virginia 66, Virginia 57



I've yet to watch the film on this game -- it's currently queued up on my Xbox, for when I've got a spare 90 minutes -- but it's no small feat to beat a talented UVA team in Charlottesville. The Cavs haven't lost at JPJ in almost two years -- Duke beat them 69-63 on January 31, 2015, two months before winning the NCAA tournament.

West Virginia was dropped to No. 25 in the AP Poll after a brutally bad first half sunk them in a tournament final against Temple. Polls are reactive by nature, but that was a bad adjustment. This season, West Virginia is without Jaysean Paige (last season's leading scorer) and all-everything forward Devin Williams (left early for the NBA). Somehow, they might be better this year anyway. 

Under Huggins, West Virginia has always been a team that struggles to generate offense, which is the whole reason for the press in the first place. This year, though, West Virginia is getting more consistent shooting from mid-range. That means more chances to set up the press, as well as less reliance on it for offensive production. WVU was picked second in the Big 12 behind Kansas, and could legitimately end KU's reign. Huggins has had more success against the Jayhawks than any other team in the Big 12, and his style of play will likely confound this year's young Kansas team even more than it did an older, more savvy team during last year's three go-arounds.

It's a really great thing for college basketball that UVA and WVU have now split two games over the last two seasons. A budding Virginia-West Virginia rivalry could be an awesome addition to each school's calendar. Tony Bennett might be Bob Huggins' antithesis, but both are stupendously good coaches, and a recurring home-and-home series would be awesome for everyone involved.



Plus, maybe ESPN will finally realize West Virginia is its own state? But hey, I don't want to aim to high.

Vid of the Week: 


I would like to apologize to all the people I randomly sent this to without explanation last night. I was just... excited. Yeah. Very excited.

Debts and Diseases Double-Down






3-2 on the weekend. I didn't give it out in this tweet, but y'all know I was all over WVU+8 in MBB. This week, I'll start handing out CBB/NBA picks. I got on a real hot tear through December NBA lines last year -- we'll see if I can do it again this year. Merry Christmas to all.









Friday, November 11, 2016

Pregame: JMU, Villanova Headline Best Division 1 Game of the Weekend

There's been lots of blogging this week -- this is my fourth post in eight days -- so I'm going to keep this week's Pregame short for you guys. We're probably all pretty tired of all the analysis this week has generated, anyway.

(That, and I'm writing this from a friend's couch in Loudoun County, so I'd like to wrap this up quickly.)



Welcome to Seattle



The GameDay crew is headed to a game featuring an I-guess-they're-good Washington team and an I-guess-they're-getting-better USC. Which is all well and good, I suppose. The Pac-12 is down this year, and with the average viewer is starting to get a little tired of watching the same four teams on Saturday morning. Combine the two, and you've got a game where the hype is more manufactured than endemic. But hey, maybe something crazy will happen.


However, if Reese and Co. strictly went to the best game of the week, they'd likely be setting up shop in suburban Philadelphia, on the Catholic grounds of Villanova University.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Open Letter to Democrats, from a Moderate who didn't vote for Trump

Dear Democrats,


Well, here we are. In a few weeks' time, we will address Donald Trump as the President of the United States.

Responses in person and from social media have been, to put it mildly, a nuclear wasteland of liberal anguish.

Some have been measured. This morning, a coworker told me that she was scared. A college friend worried about access to birth control. A boss feared the immanency of a recession.


But some reactions have been more aggressively reactionary.



I saw a gay friend ask, "You assholes want to try and vote away my rights?" Then, he proceeded to reference the gay acts he would publicly commit in protest.

One female classmate from college proclaimed, in all caps, "To the 53% of white women who voted for Trump... How dare you!"

One was a Muslim friend who told all Republicans and third-party voters, regardless of context, to fuck off and cease communication with her. Full stop.



Let's get this out of the way. I am a mostly progressive, right-leaning moderate conservative libertarian. I do not support Donald Trump. I did not vote for him. I hated the campaign that he ran. I hated the lack of substance, the tangents, the transparently dismissive marginalization of people who do not look like me, a white male. It's not what America stands for. It's not even what Republicanism stands for.

I am fortunate in that, as a white male adult, I will probably never be singled out by a President Trump. He probably has no plans to grab me by my balls. He does not wish to deport me. He has never stated that there should be a ban on me. As such, there is a certain level of outrage that I cannot access. For this, I am deeply empathetic to friends and fellow citizens.

But here's the thing. We've been detailing the faults of Donald J. Trump for, like, over a year now. He is a lecherous, narrow-minded, free-styling con-man who fearmongered his way into a thinly-veiled attempt at political discourse. He is a political neophyte who, from all appearances, remains unable to accept criticism and unable to restrain himself from his basest urges.

Democrats: through a never-ending series of missteps and mistakes that range from disagreeable to disqualifying, Donald Trump was the best opponent you could have possibly asked for. You had every fucking advantage here, liberals. And yet... you lost. You lost the most puzzling, confusing election of any of our lifetimes. You need to own that. You need to take your medicine, so that you can get better. And if you are a petulant child who is incapable of that, then maybe just stop reading at this part here.


Still here? Cool. Let's talk about the Democratic Party. Because this is your fault, too.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Hangover: JMU offense too much for Richmond; A&M & Baylor stumble


At one point in the second half on Saturday, the kid sitting next to Meghan and I inside Robbins Stadium let his frustration boil over. JMU was driving into Richmond territory for approximately the one zillionth time that game, and there were no signs of Richmond stopping the Dukes any time soon. The JMU run game wasn't breaking off 30 yards at a time, but it was converting short-yardage situations at a clip well above 50%. Bryan Schor was absolutely having his way with Richmond's back end. It was the latter part that ya boy seemed to take issue with.

"WHAT HAPPENED TO THE No. 1 RANKED PASSING DEFENSE?!" he yelled.

I couldn't help myself. I leaned over Meghan, caught his eye, and snapped back, "You hadn't played JMU yet."


I got the chance to talk to a lot of Spiders fans while sitting behind enemy lines in section 215, and one of the impressions I left with was that they had assumed the 2015 team was virtually identical to this 2016 team -- all flash, no fire. They also showed up with the idea that JMU's offense was potent, but if you could stop Abdullah, you could stop the Dukes. They didn't believe the defense was capable of making any stops against an offense of Richmond's caliber. Maybe most importantly, it seems some of them even thought that Richmond's defense would bottle up JMU's offense completely, limiting them to only two or three touchdowns.

At this point in the season, JMU's offense is firing on a level that I would have previously thought unimaginable. The emergence of Alls as a championship-caliber playmaker, as opposed to just another talented wideout, is one of the many features this team can sport during the final two games of the regular season. JMU can sling it around like Vad & Co. did last year, but their greatest ability was on display yesterday, particularly in the first half -- running with tempo.

Watch JMU on the third or fourth first down of a long drive. They'll snap the ball quickly on first down, and run the ball through the B gap for six or seven yards. When the defense brings extra defenders into the box, Schor can pick apart a collapsed field; if the defense stays thinned out, the offensive line can continue to snap the ball quickly and run with pace. The combined pace and strength of the offensive line wears down almost any defensive front -- even a really, really talented on like the one in Richmond. And make no mistake... this Richmond team, beat up in the backfield as they are, is a really good team.


Before I move on, I do want to mention something a few people have asked about -- what happened on the sideline at the end of the game? For those who were watching on TV and could only hear the announcers referencing it, there were two guys down on the field level on the UR track, and one of them started talking trash to the JMU sideline after the game was in hand. It wasn't probably anything you haven't ever seen before, in terms of back-and-forth trash talking, until the Richmond guy left the track and entered the JMU sideline. As in, on the grass, amongst the players.

Predictably, 50-some JMU players did not take kindly to a Richmondite getting in their faces on their own sideline. Some tables were knocked over, and some shoves were exchanged. I would love to know what UR guy's best-case scenario for walking into the opposing team's sideline was and starting a fight... either way, a field-level police officer had a brief exchange with his buddy, which I imagine went something like this:


Police Officer: "Excuse me, bruh, but you'd be wise to seize control of this current conflict by initiating a retreat of sorts, because if I have to, none of the fair denizens of Robbins Field, including and especially your friend, are going to like the series of events that shall unfold."

Friend: "Hmm. You've articulated quite an excellent point, sir. Thank you for sharing your view of this unfortunate incident. I shall respond as advised."

Police Officer: "You're quite welcome, young man. Thank you for acting in such a steadfast and responsible manner, saving me from escalating this incident of aggression any further."



The friend grabbed him from behind around the small of his neck and drug him back off the field and onto the track, where he was escorted out of the complex.

Throughout the game, UR had basketball players down with field-level access, throwing t-shirts from the track into the stands. My assumption, which is a 100% guess, is that these two guys are somehow linked to the UR basketball team.


Anyway, back to the game. We've all been enjoying this one for a couple of days already, so I'll leave you with Fox Sport's great preview that we all somehow missed, Richmond Times-Dispatch sports editor Mike Szvetitz's column from after the game, and some footage Curt Dudley recorded and posted to Facebook. This is from the UR series toward the end of the game that ended with a turnover on downs. Unsurprisingly, he was nice enough to let me post it here. JMU fans -- y'all root. I'm proud of you.




Checking in on the Big 12




We've talked several times this season about how Baylor is unproven and over-ranked, but ----

wait, does that say SIXTY-TWO?!

Look, I've been captain of the "Someone please explain Baylor's rank to me" club all year, but losing at home to TCU by forty points? I don't think anyone saw that coming. Baylor has been loudly touting their defensive metrics in conference play, but no one was impressed that they led the Big 12 in scoring defense after two byes, plus game against Oklahoma State, Kansas and Iowa State.

Still, I would have thought Baylor to be a top 4 finisher in Big 12 play, with potential losses to Oklahoma and West Virginia. With that home win in hand vs Oklahoma State, the Bears looked like they would at least nominally challenge for the Big 12 title; with a December game in Morgantown and a tilt with the Sooners on tap this weekend, Baylor could easily be a .500 team in conference play this year.


West Virginia 48, Kansas 21


This game, frankly, was not as close as it looked, and it doesn't look all that close to begin with. West Virginia led 31-0 at halftime; it was 45-7 late in the third. It was unsexy and methodical and more of the blue collar descriptors that have come to describe this particular 2016 West Virginia team.

I have been more nonchalant toward polls this year than I ever have been before, but I'm fearful that West Virginia's placement at No. 20 in the first playoff rankings may leave them with too much room to make up to legitimately challenge for a playoff spot. The Mountaineers are on playoff life support anyway, but theoretically, their loss is a good one -- it came before November, on the road, against a good team. At 7-1 on November 5, and with a high-profile, top-10 matchup still left on the docket, it would only be somewhat outrageous for them to mount a comeback to compete for a playoff spot.

Obviously, the Baylor result hurts them. For West Virginia to truly still have a shot at representing the Big 12 in the playoff, it needed to notch marquee wins against Oklahoma and Baylor. For Baylor to be considered a "marquee" win, it needed to show up with as few losses as possible. Now, a three-loss Bears team by November's end is not only possible, but downright likely.

I'm interested to watch the committee's newest rankings this week and next week to see if any sort of correction occurs. You don't have to believe this WVU team is elite, but at 7-1, they probably belong in the top 15. I'm not sure wins over Kansas (awful) or Texas (inconsistent) do much to raise the profile.


Aggies trip at Mississippi State


Yeah, sure, you can cite Trevor Knight getting hurt, and I guess that plays a part here. But I went back and watched a sped up version of this game Sunday night, and Mississippi State's offensive line just worked A&M's front. That's what this game came down to. A&M was unable to stop State from extending long drives -- State's eventual game-winner capped a 14-play, 73-yard drive -- but they also couldn't stop the home run ball. State had two touchdown plays of 60+ yards in the first half. The Aggies were down two touchdowns at halftime, and without Knight, they just couldn't recover.

Soooo, where did Texas A&M land in the polls after their second loss of the season, the most recent of which game at the hands of a team who is under .500, won't win another game the rest of the year, and gave up 41 points to something called Samford?




They're still in the Top 10.  #PollsAreDumb

Let's be Nerds


I'm starting a new recurring segment today titled "let's be nerds," where I impart to you current event knowledge that I find interesting, yet is almost definitely useless and generally lame.

This weekend, I saw a story about a Japanese designer named Hajime Narukawa who invented a new map to replace the germanic Mercator map that was pioneered hundreds of years ago, and generally misrepresents the sizes and centrality of certain parts of the map -- particularly Greenland and central Europe. The math and science behind it is next-level nerdy/boring, but you can find a short writeup from Wired here.


If you're like me, reading even three sentences of this story may have reminded you of The West Wing and Leo McGarry's Big Block of Cheese





(For what it's worth, President Obama has hosted a BBoC day the last three years -- replete with an enviable amount of puns -- and Gary Johnson hosted one in New Mexico while governor/has pledged to continue the practice if ever elected in the future.)


It's #N7Day, Y'all




OKAY BUT WHEN IS IT MARCH?


Let Them Eat Goats



Presented without commentary.


Please Vote.




We end the Hangover with a civic reminder -- please go vote tomorrow. If you failed to register, or have mailed a ballot in, I suppose I'm not talking to you. But surprisingly, there is consistently a fairly large discrepancy between the number of registered voters in America and the number of actual votes cast. The takeaway: lots of people are opting not to register to vote at all, but some people are registering without following through, too.

I'm not going to lecture you on politics one way or the other. Many of you know that I support Gary Johnson; I'm happy to talk privately about why I've chosen to support him over other candidates. I don't want this post to be a call to arms for any particular candidate, whether it's Trump, Clinton, Johnson, or Joe Exotic. Whoever you support, whatever your rational -- please study the ticket tonight, and take some time to vote tomorrow. 

After all, the only difference between a democracy and an oligarchy is participation. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Weekend Pregame: Is JMU-Richmond the best rivalry in Virginia? Plus N7 Day and other nonsense

Before we dive into #RichmondWeek, let's take a hot second to bask in the reflective glow of last year's JMU-Richmond circumstances.







That shit was the coolest thing I've ever been a part of. Certified.



Friday, October 21, 2016

Weekend Pregame: Big 12 Hate, Alabama's Upset Alert, and Red Dead 2

Why does everyone hate the Big 12?


Every week this season, I listen to talking heads tell me about how down the Big 12 is. They're no good.  The format of the conference isn't tenable and can't challenge for a playoff spot. They don't play any defense. Without Texas and Oklahoma, this conference is a glorified version of the Mountain West.



But let's look at the numbers. It doesn't take a statistical wizard to figure out that, because the conference is smaller, it will have fewer championship contenders. All things being equal, it should also mean the conference has less pushovers at the bottom of the standings as well.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Weekend Pregame: New Job Catharsis & Potential Road Pitfalls for JMU, WVU

Back and better than ever.


After an extended absence, Chase for Greatness will be up and running for the forseeable future. Today, I'll be doing my usual in-season preview of this weekend's slate of games, with some new additions. But first, some announcements.


Many longtime readers of the C4G blog may already know this, but for those that don't -- last month, I accepted a position as the Sports Editor at the Page News and Courier. It's a weekly paper based in the Valley that serves Page County. My job is primarily centered around high school sports, but I'm also free to write feature stories, sports commentary, outdoor sports stories, or whatever else I feel fits into the wide world of sports. Every week, I take the Sports section from 2-3 blank pages of InDesign pixels and turn it into a newspaper. It's similar to my role at the Breeze back in 2012-2013, but with more creative freedom.

If you've been around since the beginning, you know that this blog was originally created in February 2011 (over five and a half years ago!) for the purpose of eventually generating a real-world sports writing job. It's been a strange and circuitous path, but I'm finally here. For those that have stuck with me in the lean times, I thank you.

And speaking of the lean times... if you're a regular here at the Blog, I don't have to tell you that C4G has been on life support for a little while now. Every few months, I manage a strong writeup -- the consortium pieces with JMU Sports Blog et al. have been loads of fun, and writing one-off analysis pieces for softball or basketball certainly have served their purpose -- but my heart hasn't been in it for a little while now. I don't mind admitting that. It's not because I don't still love sports, and it's not because I've gotten away from writing. Simply put, I was working too many hours at too many jobs to put worthwhile time into this blog.

Your time is valuable, and there's a lot of places you can go for quality sports analysis on the internet. I'm not going to waste your time by shitting out half-assed commentary.

Fortunately, that's no longer issue. A return to journalism means more free time for me, and, consequently, more commentary on here. I'm looking forward to writing more... but, in the spirit of personal evolution, I'm going to tackle more than just sports. After all, my conversational topics go far beyond the realm of Bridgeforth Stadium, so why not branch out past how gross the JMU run game is?

I've already got some creative nonfiction dialed up for later this year, as well as an Op/Ed that will drop the first weekend of November. And, of course, new sports ideas.




Always with the sports.

Finally, more free time means more #PushupsAndPilates. I'm not entirely sure that one actually matters here, though.




JMU at New Hampshire (12pm kickoff)


A confession: I picked against JMU here. Like, everywhere that I possible could. I took the Wildcats on JMUSB's prediction thread. I picked against the Dukes in my Pigskin Pick Em panel in the PNC. (That's the Page News and Courier. Get used to seeing that acronym, you city folks.) I scratched "Cats over Dogs, soz Jmaddy" inside a bathroom stall in Warren Hall on Wednesday. I do not think JMU will win this game.

It's not like New Hampshire has a better team. Defensively, the team is gap-sound. They do what they're supposed to, though it's been against unimpressive competition. 

Offensively, they're pretty unimpressive -- think of the San Francisco 49ers offense, but with less protesting and more camo.

On second thought, that'd probably be a fairly accurate contrast between the entire city of San Francisco and the entire state of New Hampshire, if we're keeping it one hundred. 

If you're measuring talent against talent, JMU wins in a runaway. But JMU hasn't won at New Hampshire since topping the Cats 42-23 in 2006, and I just have one of those amorphous gut feelings that the streak doesn't get broken here. There's something about Durham, New Hampshire that seems to vex the Dukes. So I'm taking the happiness hedge. Sorry bout it.


For context, here is a compilation of the last five games against UNH:


11/9/13 -- New Hampshire defeats JMU, 33-17

JMU was shut out in the first half. Birdsong pulled it within 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, but that's as close as the Dukes would get. One week later, JMU lost "The Stony Brook Game." One week earlier, Mickey Matthews notched his last win as the JMU head coach, a 31-21 Homecoming Weekend win over Villanova in the Burg.


11/5/11 -- New Hampshire defeats JMU, 28-10

This is the Jace Edwards team that's better than you remember. They beat Eastern Kentucky in the playoffs before losing to a team out west that nobody paid any attention called North Dakota State, 26-14. At the time of the game in Durham, JMU was ranked No. 13. The Wildcats were No. 9. JMU didn't score after the first quarter.

Fun fact: previewing this UNH game was my first article for the Breeze. The article was called, "Dukes Pack Hope on New Hampshire." At the time, it didn't look like JMU would make the playoffs. The offensive line was young as hell and couldn't block with any kind of consistency.

Bonus fun fact: did you know Jace Edwards came from Texas' Midland Lee High School? AKA the "bad guys" from Friday Night Lights?


10/16/10 -- New Hampshire defeats JMU at Bridgeforth Stadium, 28-14

35 days removed from The Game To End All Games (#twentyonesixteen), JMU loses a second home game. It lost to Delaware at home two weeks earlier. The Dukes were ranked No. 7 at the time, and did not score at all in the second half.


9/8/07 -- JMU defeats New Hampshire, 41-24, at Bridgeforth Stadium.  

If you're looking for the last time JMU beat the Cats anywhere, here it is. Rodney Landers scrambled for a 9-yard touchdown run with 20 seconds left before halftime. New Hampshire scored on the opening possession of the second half, then JMU throat-punched them with 24 unanswered points to end the game. 



Wait a minute. The last time JMU beat New Hampshire, the Cats were undefeated and ranked No. 1? AND IT WAS TEN YEARS AGO TO THE DAY? 

Shit. Can I take back my pick?



West Virginia at Texas Tech, 12pm.


Well, of course these games are at the same time. After all, they're both critical road tests at critical junctions in critical seasons for both teams. Both are contending for national conference championships. Let's put them in the same time slot!

Personal battles aside, I'm not going to spend much time previewing this game. Frankly, I like the lack of national media exposure this year. All you need to know is that Texas Tech has a sick offense, a quarterback with an injured throwing shoulder, and one of the worst defenses in FBS football. Per Football Outsiders, Texas Tech ranks 109 in S&P+ adjusted defense. 

West Virginia, per usual, has some nice offensive mojo.




Past that... I'll just leave you with this: Undefeated and Unnoticed, WVU Presses Forward...




Other Games to Watch:


No. 2 Ohio State at No. 8 Wisconsin 

What's this strange feeling in my loins? Am I... excited? For Big 10 football?  I'm going to call my primary care physician.


No. 10 Nebraska at Indiana

Add Nebraska to the list of teams that are being vastly overlooked. The Huskers are undefeated in mid-October, and it feels like nobody is talking about them.

Then again, they play in a conference with Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State, so maybe we don't need to. (They play at Camp Randall in two weeks and in Columbus the week after that, so we can all feel justified in ignoring them in a few weeks.)


Kansas State at No. 19 Oklahoma

Kansas State is the best team that you won't watch all year. Which is a shame, because Bill Snyder will probably retire at the end of the season, and they'll go back to being awful for the forseeable future.


No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Tennessee

I'm not a believer in this Alabama team. They're even more mediocre at quarterback than usual, and their secondary is vulnerable. I'm not saying Tennessee is going to get them, because this Vols team is the most overrated team of the young playoff era... but someone is going to beat this team. I have a suspicion it's going to be Texas A&M. This is not a vintage Bama team. I'm unconvinced they're going to make the playoff.


No. 17 Virginia Tech at Syracuse

Justin Fuente is doing a hell of a job at Virginia Tech, so let's all give credit where credit is due. But isn't this the same team I watched piss their pants against Tennessee in Bristol, like, a month ago? Now, Danny Kanell is running around calling them National Championship contenders? Can we all relax a little on the "Tech is Back" rhetoric?


No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 22 Arkansas

Meh.


USC at Arizona

Dana Holgorsen is looking better and better, huh? Rich Rod's squad went south realllll quick. Sorry, Kenzie.


Iowa State at Texas

Some people said Charlie Strong was coaching for his job last week against Oklahoma. That seemed like a short-sighted thing to say. This week, it doesn't. If Texas loses at home to Iowa State... boy, bye.


Pitt at UVA

If I didn't already have two games to watch, two Aquatics In-Services to run, and other Saturday night shenanigans in the works, me and my Eat Shit Pitt shirt would take up an ever-so-haughty residence inside the confines of Charlottesville, Virginia. 


Villanova at Richmond

Ugh. Can they both lose? 




Debts & Diseases Double-Down

We close the Pregame with a new segment called the Debts & Diseases Double-Down. To quote C4G paragon Norm Macdonald -- "Sure, they call gambling a disease, but it's the only disease where you can win money."

I'm here to assist you in the eradication of your student loan debt, or the purchasing of that new flatscreen. Perhaps your bank can interest you in a house you can't quite afford? Do those jaguar commercials tickle your villainous fancy? Get yourself some vanity items! You deserve them. Make America Gaudy Again.


Anyway, here we go. Don't bet it if you don't got it.


$: Rutgers +6/Illinois

$$: Iowa State +14.5/Texas

$$$: Wisconsin +10.5/Ohio State


Chalk Play of the Week: San Jose State -2.5 over Nevada. It's not quite #pac12afterdark, but San Diego State is a solid team that's barely giving up anything at home. Wake up Sunday morning to find your winnings.

Bonus Play: Central Michigan at Northern Illinois, Under 64.5.  This actually comes via Tom Fornelli, who is my #1 favorite follow on Twitter. Hilarious guy. Anyway, he picked this one out in his Pick 6 column for CBS Sports, and I think he's dead on the money here. 





And so ends another glorious Weekend Pregame. Enjoy the pageantry. Ain't nothing like college football.