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Monday, November 29, 2010

Third Annual Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards

I know that all of you Big Ten football fans and loyal readers were just dying for the annual tradition handing out my Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards. Unlike the previous two years, in 2010 I will honor more than one defensive player. In 2008 and 2009, I was too flat-out lazy to break down defense and distribute multiple awards. I'm sure the Big Ten was extremely disappointed by my lack of comprehensive analysis. Hey, it's not like I'm getting paid to do this!

You were restless with anticipation to see the players I selected, as I'm sure the players themselves can hardly wait to receive their "virtual" awards. Never fear, your wait is over...drum roll, please:

Most Valuable Player: Denard Robinson, Michigan. There was not a single player in the conference who was more valuable to his team than Denard Robinson, the Wolverines' quarterback. With Michigan's defense and special teams as terrible as they were, it's hard to imagine how miserable the team would have been if it hadn't been for the offensive sparkplug that was Mr. Robinson. He led the conference in total offense, and was, amazingly, the Big Ten's leading rusher as a quarterback. Not only that, but his rushing yards (1643) were almost 300 yards more than his closest competitor in that catagory, Mikel Leshoure of Illinois (1371 yards).

Robinson's critics will argue that when he played against better defenses, his numbers went down. Well, yeah, of course they did--that's to be expected. The critics might also point to the ten interceptions he threw and his passing efficiency, which was only seventh in the Big Ten.

The mistakes that DRob made can be traced to the fact that his defense was completely unreliable, and was never able to put the offense in a position where it didn't feel like it had to make plays to keep up with the opponent.

Honorable mentions go to Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue, Greg Jones of Michigan State, and Terrell Pryor of Ohio State. Who knows how much more disappointing Purdue's season would have been without Kerrigan's contributions on defense. See "Best defensive lineman" for more on Kerrigan. Greg Jones came back for a senior year and delivered on his stated goal to win a conference title. Terrell Pryor is an under-appreciated talent, and had another solid year in leading the Buckeyes to yet another Big Ten crown (albeit shared with Wisconsin and Michigan State).

Best quarterback: Denard Robinson, Michigan. It was a great year for quarterbacks in the Big Ten Conference, and this choice was a particularly difficult one. Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin), Terrell Pryor (Ohio State), Kirk Cousins (Michigan State), Dan Persa (Northwestern), Adam Weber (Minnesota), and Ben Chappell (Indiana) are all deserving of honorable mention. No quarterback, however, brings the multidimensional ability of Denard Robinson. For all the reasons mentioned above, Robinson is top quarterback in the Big Ten, but the others are not far behind.

After mulling this over in my head, I almost gave this award to Terrell Pryor, whose athleticism, toughness, and competitiveness are often taken for granted (despite his penchant for accepting free tattoos and selling Big Ten Championship rings). His 4th and 10 scramble against Iowa was a huge play. Kirk Cousins' level-headed leadership helped propel the Spartans to a share of the title, Scott Tolzien improved as the season progressed and led the Big Ten in passing efficiency, Dan Persa was having a great year until his season ended in the Wildcats' win over Iowa, while Weber and Chappell were bright spots in otherwise dismal seasons for Minnesota and Indiana, respectively.

Best running back: Mikel Leshoure, Illinois. By all rights, this award should also go to Denard Robinson, who as a quarterback led the conference in rushing. However, it goes to Leshoure, who finished the season with 1513 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, and had a huge 330-yard game at Wrigley Field against instate rival Northwestern.

Honorable mention to Edwin Baker of Michigan State, and for the outstanding three-headed monster at Wisconsin: John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White.

Best wide receiver: Tandon Doss, Indiana. He was a highlight of an otherwise dismal season for the Hoosiers. Doss was not only a great ball catcher, but led the conference in all-purpose yardage by a large margin. Honorable mentions go out to the Iowa tandem of Marvin McNutt and Derrel Johnson-Koulianos, as well as Jeremy Ebert of Northwestern, and B. J. Cunningham of Michigan State.

Best kicker: Devin Barclay, Ohio State. Barclay was perfect on PATs and led the conference in scoring. A very close honorable mention to freshman Dan Conroy of Michigan State, who was 44 of 45 on point-afters and 14 of 15 in fieldgoals.

Best defensive lineman: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue. I'd heard a lot of hype about this guy throughout the season, but didn't actually see him play until the Boilermakers took on Michigan State, and I was quite impressed with him. He is incredibly fast off the ball and an extremely hard hitter. MSU's offensive tackle J'Michael Deane had a hell of a time blocking Kerrigan.

Kerrigan led the Big Ten in forced fumble, sacks, and tackles for loss, and I can guarantee he will be a significant contributor to an NFL team next season.

(For what it's worth, I've seen Kerrigan interviewed a few times and he's soft-spoken, modest, and quite witty. It's on the football field that he becomes a wild animal).

Honorable mention goes to J.J. Watt of Wisconsin, who had a terrific season for the conference co-champion Badgers.

Best linebacker: Greg Jones, Michigan State. At the end of the 2009 season, Greg Jones said he was returning to MSU to win a Big Ten title (and, let's be honest, he was returning at least partly because he was NOT going to be a first round pick in the 2010 NFL draft). Jones fulfilled his goal and led the Spartans to their first conference crown in 20 years. He also anchored an MSU defense that was much improved over last season.

Honorable mentions go to the two great linebackers at Ohio State, Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, as well as Martez Wilson of Illinois and Eric Gordon of Michigan State.

Best defensive back: Ricardo Allen, Purdue. I'm going against the grain on this one, since Allen was only honorable mention all conference in the official Big Ten awards, but I'm giving this to Allen because he was the most impressive DB I saw all year. He was only a freshman in 2010, so he will be wreaking havoc in opposing passing games for the next three years. My honorable mentions go to Trenton Robinson and Johnny Adams of Michigan State (okay, go ahead and call me a homer. If the shoe fits, wear it!) who were the outstanding all year in a much-improved Spartan defensive backfield.

Best punter: Aaron Bates, Michigan State. Sorry, I'm not being a homer here. Bates was the best punter in the Big Ten (and, possibly, one of the best quarterbacks in the conference based on his perfect execution of the "Little Giants" fake field goal against Notre Dame and the "Mouse Trap" fake punt against Northwestern). Honorable mention goes to Illinois' Anthony Santella, who tied Bates for the Big Ten lead in punting average.

Coach of the year: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State. Once again, I can be accused of being a homer on this pick, but the facts bear out the cold hard fact that Dantonio did the best, most amazing coaching job of the year in the Big Ten. He took a team that was, at best, a darkhorse to contend for the conference title, and led them to a share of the title. En route, he took a gamble with the gutsiest call of the year (the "Little Giants" fake field goal) to beat Notre Dame on national television.

Shortly after celebrating the most dramatic win of his MSU coaching career, Dantonio suffered a heart attack. He coached the next few games from his hospital bed, then was able to gain enough strength to lead the team from the press box. Despite all these difficulties, the Spartans continued to win. (If I had a coaching staff of the year, it'd also have to go to Michigan State. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell and the rest of the coaches did a remarkable job in keeping the team going without missing a beat).

When it comes right down to it, no coach in the conference experienced the setback that Mark Dantonio did while at the same time leading his team to one of the best seasons in school history. Dantonio has changed the culture of losing that has existed for far too long at Michigan State and brought the program back to championship caliber levels. In two of the last three years, the Spartans have played for a share of the conference title on the last day of the season.

My honorable mentions go to Jim Tressel and Bret Bielema (the two coaches of the other conference co-champions). Jim Tressel is taken entirely for granted. Many out there assume that because OSU gets so much talent (and they do get considerable talent--but someone has to recruit that talent), they should automatically win even if a trained chimp were serving as head coach. They neglect the fact that the Ohio State program has elevated at least a few notches from where it was under John Cooper. It's amazing what Tressel has accomplished in leading the Buckeyes to a sixth consecutive Big Ten title.

I'll also give a nod to Bret Bielema of Wisconsin. The Badgers overcame one early season speed bump (the loss to MSU in the first conference game of the season) and improved throughout the course of the season. They ran over the #1-ranked Ohio State in Madison, took down Iowa in Iowa City, and by November were simply steamrolling their opponents. He's not going to win any sportsmanship awards with the way he ran up some scores against hapless foes, but Bielema knew how to work the BCS system to get the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. He's developed a formidable football program in Madison.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Michigan State Spartans: 2010 Big Ten Football Champions

The last time Michigan State won a Big Ten title in football, I was 22 years old, and still (sort of) a student at MSU. I had (so I thought--it's a long story that I'll get to some other time) finished my coursework, and was awaiting placement as a student teacher, so I was sort of in limbo during the autumn of '90. I still had friends on campus, so I drove to MSU a few times that Fall to hang out. (I was living at home that autumn, and missed campus life terribly). I recall that the big popular song that autumn of '90 was Bell Biv Devoe's "Do Me!", I was on the MSU campus the day the Spartans beat Michigan in the "Number one vs. No one" game (and joined an impromptu crazed-but-happy rally at the "Sparty" statue following the game), I had a couple crushes on two girls--neither of which panned out (due mainly to my then-cluelessness with the opposite sex), and that I had a youthful scrape with the law--during Thanksgiving weekend--that I was worried would derail my student teaching plans. (Thankfully, everything worked out in the end, I completed student teaching, and I've been a good law-abiding citizen ever since).

Okay, you don't need a discourse on my goofy life ca. 1990. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's been a long time since MSU won a Big Ten championship in football. (If I'd known it'd take another two decades for the Spartans to win another Big Ten football title, I'd have appreciated the one in 1990 a little more). Twenty years later, I'm married with kids and a little grayer, balder, and slightly pudgier than I was back then.

Being older, though, hasn't stopped me from basking in this championship as if I were a little kid. Ever since I had the gumption to finally check the score, while at work, at about 3:30--I've been reading everything I can, watching every college football highlight show on ESPN and the Big Ten Network, and generally enjoying the hell out of this. Big Ten football titles certainly don't come every year to East Lansing, and I'm going to appreciate this for all it's worth.

Unfortunately, I was not able to watch the Penn State game. As I mentioned in the previous post, I had to work yesterday. As a public service librarian, I'm obligate to work one Saturday per month, and my Saturday was yesterday. I knew that the only way I'd be able to work effectively was if I made a point NOT to check the score until I was reasonably sure the game was over. It was at times excuciating, but I gutted it out until 3:30, when with bated breath I found the final score on ESPN...then, pure elation. I went into the backroom/work area of the library and had a private fist pump. (Okay, that sounded a little more unintentionally pornographic than I intended--sorry).

A few observations of the game and college football in general:

What a great way to end the yearly series with Penn State, with the first MSU victory in Happy Valley since 1965. Since the Nittany Lions joined the conference, and the yearly Land Grant Trophy was established between MSU and PSU, it's been nothing but pain and heartbreak for the Spartans when they venture into Beaver Stadium. Few of those losses were harder to take than the 2008 game, which saw the Lions clobber MSU 49-18 and celebrate a Big Ten title at the Spartans' expense. Two years later, MSU returned the favor. With conference realignment, Penn State is off MSU's schedule for the next few years and the teams will no longer meet each other every year in the final game of the season.

Once again, I subjected my reader(s) to more hand-wringing and angst prior to this game. I must sound like a broken record. I was thrilled to see MSU play their best since at least the Michigan game. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, the running game (led by Edwin Baker) got it going again, and the defense was solid. With the acception of a few hiccups in the fourth quarter, it was a dominating performance by the Spartans.

I have seen the game highlights, and intend on watching it in its entirety on ESPN 360. Much has been made of Trenton Robinson's gaffe after his endzone interception. Yes, it was ill-advised to try to run the ball back after snatching it nine yards deep in the endzone (and I'm happy I didn't see it live because I would have surely had either a coronary or would have thrown something at my TV), but everyone needs to let it go. Trenton Robinson has had a great year and he made a mistake in the heat of the moment. (I saw Robinson on the sideline as the game ended. A teammate took him aside and Robinson looked like he was in tears). I can guarantee that the next time he makes a pic deep in the endzone, he'll take a knee.

This leads me to one of the primary reasons MSU was so successful this season: they are a great TEAM. They all have each other's back. One never sees finger-pointing among these guys.

I really don't care if MSU plays in a BCS game. To me, the Big Ten co-championship is more important. There was too much going against the Spartans to reach the BCS anyway. Unlike Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans began the season unranked and had to fight their way into the top 10. Despite the win over Wisconsin, of which the Spartans can be justifiably proud, the blowout loss at Iowa really hurt. Let's face it, another factor is that MSU's football resume over the last few decades is much less impressive than the Badgers and Buckeyes, and if you don't think that matters to voters, you're fooling yourself.

As I write this, the latest AP poll was announced and MSU is #7, while Wisconsin is #4 and Ohio State #6. I'm a bit surprised, but pleased, that MSU moved up to seventh.

The Spartans really shouldn't worry about the polls now, anyway. The goal should be to win whatever bowl game they end up in (probably the Capital One Bowl) and the rest should work itself out. With a bowl win, MSU should finish no worse than the top 5 in the BCS, and that would be an outstanding season.

It was a great year for the Big Ten, with three teams tying for the title and all finishing 11-1. It would be great if Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all won their bowl games and all three finished in the top 5. I know many Spartan fans out there have it out for Wisconsin. I agree that it appears the Badgers have run up the score in their last few games, but unfortunately that's the way the BCS system is set up and Bret Bielema is playing the system.

Although this post has probably been long enough, I may add to it later, so don't say you weren't warned.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On the eve of a possible Big Ten title

"Don't get your hopes up," "don't get your hopes up," don't get your hopes up". That is my mantra as a Michigan State football fan. It was once my mantra as a Michigan State basketball fan, until Tom Izzo came along and essentially changed all of that. Is it possible that Mark Dantonio may do the same for MSU football?

Time will tell if MSU's football fortunes are truly changing under Dantonio's tutelage. For now, though, I still find myself almost always thinking, when Spartan football has a chance to do something good, "don't get your hopes up."

Since I first became truly conscious of MSU football back in 1977, when I was nine years old, the years have been riddled with one disappointment and mediocre season after another. Sure, there have been the periodic moments of glory, like the 1978 Big Ten championship (which, as I've mentioned before, only seems like a rumor now, since there seems to be no visual proof of it ever occurring). That season was marred by no television due to NCAA probation, and also no Rose Bowl. Later, there was the brief period of success under George Perles, with the Big Ten title in '87, the exciting Rose Bowl win, and a few other good-to-excellent seasons in '88, '89, and '90. MSU football then entered a dark period only brightened by the flicker of the 1999 season, but even that year was blighted somewhat by blowout losses to Purdue and Wisconsin, which cost the team a shot at the conference crown and BCS berth.

More recently, we had the nice little season that was 2008, where the Spartans finished in 3rd place in the conference with an overall regular season record of 9-3. (I documented that season pretty thoroughly in this blog). Once again, the season was adversely affected by blowout losses to conference bullies Ohio State and Penn State, and the subsequent Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia. Like this year, that team had a shot to at least tie for the conference crown by beating Penn State in Happy Valley, but were hammered 49-18.

I want to believe that the 2010 Spartan football team is a little different than previous MSU teams that have had some success but have wilted when their big moment came. Despite the team's sole loss of the season, a 37-6 massacre at Iowa, the Spartans have shown more guts and resolve than any MSU football team I can remember. If they can find a way to win tomorrow, they will more than likely be remembered as one of the finest teams that the school has had since the Duffy Daugherty-coached teams of the mid-sixties.

Full disclosure time: If you haven't already guessed, MSU football means more to me than MSU basketball. Don't get me wrong, I love all the success and glory that Tom Izzo has brought to Spartan hoops and I revel in all of the wonderful victories and championships they've had in the last twelve years. As a kid, I worshipped Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Gregory Kelser, Jay Vincent, and the rest of those two great Spartans teams of '77-'78 and '78-'79. I continued to follow MSU hoops through "death valley" losing years after Magic's departure and the brief resurgence with Sam Vincent, Scott Skiles, and Darryl Johnson. I was a student when the '89-'90 team beat Purdue in one of the most amazing games ever played to claim the Big Ten title, and watched in horror as the team's NCAA tournament came to a shocking and controversial end against Georgia Tech.

But when it really comes down to it, I live and breath Spartan football. I was raised on my parents' stories of Duffy Daugherty, Bubba Smith, and Clint Jones. The first Michigan State sporting event I ever attended, indeed my first college sporting event, was the 1977 MSU/Northwestern football game. On that blistering cold November Saturday, I watched an up-and-coming Spartan team thoroughly dismantle the Wildcats, 44-3. Ever since then, I've been hooked though the good times and (mostly) bad times. It's just in my DNA now. Perhaps it always was in my DNA.

I won't be able to see tomorrow's game against Penn State, as I'll be working at the South Lansing library. I don't know that I'll even be able to bring myself to follow the game on ESPN, as I won't be able to concentrate on work and serving our patrons. My plan is to rely solely on our patrons for updates, and if I get none I'll have to sneak a peak on ESPN at around 3:30 PM. I'm sure at least a few times, I'll mutter softly, "Don't get your hopes up", but a guy can dream, can't he?

Go State!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone

I will be off to my sister-in-law's house in East Lansing for some great food, family, and those exasperating Detroit Lions. Can they pull of the upset against the Patriots? Highly doubtful even if Brian Hoyer has to play for Tom Brady.

Anyway, I wish all my millions of readers a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How modern society leaves many people behind

I work at a library in the blue collar Midwest. We get an extremely broad mix of patrons: everyone from families, to elderly people, to folks desperately trying to find jobs and who use our computers in order to fill out applications and create resumes.

I see so many people come in the library who have little idea about the very basics of using a computer. They don't know how to use the internet, they have no idea how to set up an email account, or use Microsoft Word.

One would think that by the year 2010, most people would know the basics of computer usage, but this is not the case. There are so many people who are being left behind by our increasingly technological world. I'm not just talking about older folks, either. There are people in their thirties and even a few in their twenties who struggle with new technology.

This is an even bigger issue recently because many companies and businesses only accept online applications. On Tuesday, a library patron, probably in his fifties, came in the library and told me with some degree of desperation that he needed help filling out KMart and Fazoli's applications on the computer. He was jobless, having been laid off some time ago, and had recently moved back to Michigan. This unfortunate man had rudimentary computer skills at best, and there was no way he was going to be able to complete these online applications, particularly when the Fazoli's application required a submission of an online resume. This man only had a paper resume, and there was no way I could explain to him how to create a resume on Word and save it to a flash drive. He had a hard time using the mouse, there was no conceivable way he was going to be able to create his resume on the computer--at least not in the limited amount of time I had to help him--and the hour and change he was alotted use of the patron computer.

The point I'm trying to make is that technology is advancing at such a speed that many people, most of them working class or poor, are being left behind. This is one aspect of the unemployment problem that does not seem to be discussed much by the media. Working in the public service sector of the library, for the first time in four years, has given me new appreciation for the struggles that so many folks experience in trying to find work, and desperately attempting to cope and survive in this rapidly changing world.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The amazing Spartan football rollercoaster ride continues (Michigan State 35, Purdue 31)

This wild and wooly Michigan State Spartan football season just keeps going. What an amazing come-from-behind win.

We went to my parents' house in the Thumb for a (pre-Thanksgiving) Thanksgiving family get-together. When I stepped in the door a little after 12 o'clock noon, my dad announced that State had just scored the first touchdown. It seemed at that point that the Spartans would go on to roll the Boilermakers and have a fun, relaxing senior wrong I was.

The game went gradually downhill from there. By the time Michigan State was down 28-13 at the end of the third quarter, I was writing off the game as yet another of a long line of headscratching MSU football losses. The Spartans could do nothing right and nothing was going in their favor. Kirk Cousins was banged up and briefly left the game, meanwhile MSU had suddenly forgotten how to tackle, and were committing stupid penalties left and right.

Once again, I thought (and said to my dad at one point) the Spartans had managed to break our hearts. State was going to lose to Purdue, probably lose to Penn State next week, and finish at 9-3 overall and only 5-3 in the conference. I was overcome with despair and knew that the rest of my day, if not my weekend, would be ruined. My dad had enough and decided to putter around the house, and I decided that if the game got any worse, I'd probably let the kids watch Nickelodeon.

Then, a funny thing happened...the Spartans woke up in the fourth quarter. The last quarter of the game looked like the end of a Popeye cartoon, after our hero has gotten his butt kicked by Bluto, desperately reaches for his can of spinach, rips it open, we see his biceps bulge, and the sailor man proceeds to obliterate the suddenly hapless Bluto. This is exactly what happened with the Spartans. With the score 31-20, Chris L. Rucker easily intercepted a badly thrown pass and soon after the Spartans scored a touchdown, converted a two-point conversion, and the score was 31-28. Later, Purdue was forced to punt and Denicos Allen, a redshirt freshman, soared through the air like Superman to block the kick. Johnny Adams recovered the ball at the 3 and a few plays later the Spartans punched it in to take the lead 35-31.

Although the Spartans had the lead again finally, Purdue got the ball back with plenty of time to pull it out, and the Boilermakers were able to move the ball down the field, aided in large part by a 4th down , 15-yard personal foul call against the Spartans. The deciding play of the game, however, came a little later on another 4th down, when Boilers quarterback rolled to his left and was hammered by Greg Jones just as he threw the ball. The force of the collision caused the ball to flutter like a wounded duck and fell into the arms of MSU's Chris Norman for an interception. Game over.

My weekend was saved. Soon after the end of the game, my brother and his family arrived at my parents' house. We had some celebratory glasses of wine and relaxed while watching the next game, Ohio State at Iowa.

So the Spartans are still in line for a potential Big Ten title, but Penn State looms ahead. Just for the heck of it, I checked to see the last time Penn State lost its final home game of the year. The Nittany Lions have not lost on their senior day since 1999, when a very good Michigan team beat them. Since then, ten consecutive wins in the their last game of the season in Happy Valley.

Cause for more concern is the way MSU has been playing since mid-October. Sure, they have been winning (with the exception of the Iowa debacle) but they look like a banged up team that has lost some of their mojo. With the exception of Edwin Baker, the running game has evaporated. Le'Veon Bell mysteriously hit the freshman wall after the Michigan game, and I don't understand why Larry Caper hasn't gotten more touches. The offensive line looks a little tired, and quarterback Kirk Cousins is a one-man M*A*S*H unit. On the plus side, special teams continue to make huge plays, the defense has been very solid for the most part, and the receiving corps of Dell, Cunningham, Martin, and Gantt have been collectively outstanding. Let's just hope they have enough to put it together for one last regular season game and take out the Nittany Lions.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Classic rock really rocks me today...then fizzles out

I had a particularly long and grueling day at work, it wasn't necessarily bad, it just wore me out and it was such sweet relief to finally get in my car and drive home.

My normal habit on the nightly drive home is to listen to NPR, generally WUOM 91.7 out of Ann Arbor, because that NPR station has a nice clear FM signal. However, the night before I'd been listening to the MSU basketball game on the way home, and hadn't bothered to change it to nice, staid, calm, relaxing NPR. Instead of the BBC NewsHour (or whatever is on at 6:00 PM), I was greeted by The Beatles' "The Ballad of John and Yoko." That was a pleasant surprise. I stopped across the street from work for gas, and when I finished it was John Lennon singing "Watching the Wheels," a song I didn't much like when it came out in 1980 but a song I've come to appreciate much more the older I become. I turned up the volume a little on that one. It soon became obvious that this was a Lennon tribute music block when "Instant Karma" came on. This is another Lennon solo tune that has grown on me over the years, though I still don't really care for Phil Spector's production. Still, I was diggin it enough to crank up the volume just a tad more as I approached the intersection of Cedar Street and Mt. Hope on the south side of Lansing.

The Lennon tribute ended and, holy shit, the next sound I hear is the burbling synths of The Who's "Baba O'Riley." I hadn't heard this song in I don't know how long but it was just the catharsis I needed. I thought back on when I first discovered The Who's album Who's Next back in college and how I used to crank that mother to 11 so many times I can't count. After a long day at work, the slashing Pete Townshend power chords and manic Moonie drumming were EXACTLY what I needed. I blasted my '97 Volvo's speakers so loud I'm surprised they didn't blow out. I soon learned that simultaneous air guitar and air drumming in the car aren't conducive to good driving, so I ceased before I crashed into someone.

The power of music is funny and it's amazing. I still get the same chill down my spine that I got as a 19 year old kid, and I'm talking literal chill down my spine--not merely a figurative chill down my spine, whenever I hear Townshend's powerful guitar riffs in "Baba O'Riley." There are plenty of musicians I loved when I was young and continue to love to this day, but I don't think any musician ever spoke to me, on so many different levels, as Pete Townshend and The Who. Their music was so emotionally raw, visceral, and muscular (though The Who are certainly not without a tender side) and the Townshend's lyrics spoke to the combination if righteous anger and emotional vulnerability that I felt then and continue to feel, to a certain extent, today.

Well, as often happens with classic rock stations, they can't continue to play the music I love for too long. Eventually they run out of steam and play old clunkers that I didn't like when I was a kid and still don't really care for now. Billy Squier's lame "The Stroke" completely destroyed the mood set by "Baba O'Riley." (I always thought Billy Squier was nothing more than a sleazeball. Yeah, I get it Billy, "stroke" is a double entendre. How witty. AC/DC do the same thing but the difference is they rock and you're just boring). By the time Lynyrd Skynyrd's "What's Your Name" finished, I was just about ready to turn it back to NPR. (Couldn't they have at least played a good Skynyrd song like "Tuesday's Gone" or "Simple Man"? Nope.) After Skynyrd, the DJ promised Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" coming up next. Awesome, I thought...then, when the heck did the Heads become "classic rock"? Well, I guess the song is 27 years old.

Before Talking Heads came on, I had pulled into my garage, and my evening with classic rock was over.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mark's autumn one-track mind...oh, and another boring fantasy football update

Two years ago, I apologized to those who may be reading this blog (and at this point I believe I've bored everyone to death and they've long sinced tuned out) about my football obsession. I'm truly sorry that I'm presenting myself as completely narrow-minded, but I have to admit that this time of year, with my favorite team and alma mater MSU having an excellent season, football is my obsession right now.

My plan is to try and sprinkle this blog with a few non-football posts (we'll see how that goes). I want to write a post regarding the recent election and my observations of the political atmosphere in Michigan.

Many blogs out there are devoted to the emotional lives and personal angst of the blogger. Hey, if that's what they want to write about, that's great. I'm all for it if it's done well, and there are some bloggers out there who do a wonderful job writing personal confessionals. I just don't think I'm comfortable with airing my dirty laundry via cyberspace for anyone to see. Believe me, I have more than a little dirty laundry to spread around, but you guys don't need to know about it, at least not now. (No, I haven't committed any felonies or killed anyone, if that's what you want to know).

I've ceased with the fantasy football updates because I was finding them as boring as you probably were. I'm 6-2 right now but have made so many roster adjustments lately that I can't keep up with who I have and messed up my starters today. At looks as though several of my guys are having good days, though, so maybe I'll be okay despite goofing up.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Spartans bounce back (Michigan State 31, Minnesota 8)

It was a little dull, a little vanilla, but Michigan State got the job done against a team in turmoil, the Minnesota Gophers. Now, the Spartans get a much deserved and much needed bye week before the final two-game push of the season.

I really can't find much to say about this game. Really not much to say. I will give credit to Minnesota for playing hard and not quitting. Adam Weber is a talented quarterback, and MarQueis Gray (who split time between quarterback and receiver) showed a real upside, but the Gophers made too many mistakes to make it a competive game. As far as the Spartans go, the coaches probably kept the playcalling deliberately conservative because they could. MSU's focus was to simply get through this game with a victory, as few nicks and bruises as possible, and get the guys healthy for November 20 against Purdue.

Special mention goes to Edwin Baker, who had a tremendous game for the Spartans (admittedly against an extremely weak defense) with 179 yards rushing and four touchdowns. I love the way that kid runs the ball. He is extremely tough and a difficult to bring down--in fact, he delivers more physical punishment to defenders than they can muster against him.

A pretty wild day in the rest of the Big Ten. Joe Paterno picked up his 400th career win as Penn State (a team that is beginning to look extremely dangerous) come back from a 21-0 deficit to beat Northwestern, 35-21. (If football games were only 30 minutes long, Northwestern might be undefeated). In a game that featured virtually no defense, Michigan beat Illinois in triple overtime, 67-65. I caught the last minute of regulation and all three overtimes and will say that the game was wildly entertaining, even if Bo Schembechler is spinning in his grave over the horrendous excuse for a defense that the Wolverines continue to put on the field. Michigan's D had exactly one decent play that I saw, and that was stuffing Illinois on their final 2-point conversion attempt. In other action, Iowa played flat and barely scraped by Indiana, 18-13, and after a slow start, Wisconsin outmuscled Purdue, 34-13.

As I mentioned, Penn State makes me nervous, and I could easily see Michigan State losing there on November 27. I rue the day that George Perles decided that it'd be a brilliant idea to make Penn State a pseudo rival and place them at the end of the schedule, ala Michigan/Ohio State. It has not helped MSU one bit, and it won't help them this year. If MSU had caught Penn State early in the year, the Spartans would most certainly have won against a team with a shaky freshman quarterback. But, as almost always happens with Penn State, the Nittany Lions have improved (and may have found themselves a quarterback in Matt McGloin, who has replaced the injured Rob Bolden, who is still recovering from a concussion). Evan Royster and Silas Redd had big days today at running back, and Penn State's defense is solid if not spectactular. What makes it even more difficult to beat PSU is that Beaver Stadium is always a sold-out madhouse, particularly that last game of the season. Oh, and I forgot to menton that the weather in Happy Valley, in late November, is usually about 30 degrees, snowy, and windy. Thank God this is the last year MSU will have to play these guys the last week of the season, as Big Ten expansion has killed this fake rivalry.

It was really a day for college football for me. Perfect weather for the pigskin, with sunny skies, lots of leaves on the ground, and temperatures in the mid-30s. I'd have loved to have been at Spartan Stadium, but was content to settle for the warmth of my living room and flat screen TV.