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Saturday, February 25, 2006

AFL: week 5 power rankings

Through Week 4





























































Kansas City






Tampa Bay






Grand Rapids






San Jose






New York






Las Vegas


















Los Angeles












KEY: SCR - percentage of offensive possessions resulting in scores; STP - percentage of defensive possessions resulting in stops; OFF - average point value of offensive possession; DEF - average point value of defensive possession; EFF - overall team efficiency, calculated as sum of OFF and DEF. Beginning with Week 4, TOTe is been adjusted for strength of schedule. (Formulas by Bradford Doolittle.)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

AFL: week 4 power rankings

AFL Power Rankings

Through Week 3























































Tampa Bay






San Jose












Las Vegas






New York






Grand Rapids












Kansas City






Los Angeles


















KEY: SCR - percentage of offensive possessions resulting in scores; STP - percentage of defensive possessions resulting in stops; OFF - average point value of offensive possession; DEF - average point value of defensive possession; EFF - overall team efficiency, calculated as sum of OFF and DEF. (Formulas by Bradford Doolittle.)

AFL: week 4 picks

No comments this week. Coming off a 3-6 Week 3 showing, I better just keep my mouth shut.

Dallas 51, Austin 39
Georgia 60, Las Vegas 53
Nashville 59, Colorado 55
Chicago 52, Los Angeles 45
Utah 54, Arizona 50
Kansas City 48, Columbus 45
New York 45, Philadelphia 44
San Jose 56, Grand Rapids 41
Tampa Bay 50, Orlando 38
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Big 12: Baseball roundup, weeks 1/2

Believe it or not, the baseball season is already rolling, at least on the collegiate level. With pitchers & catcher starting to filter into big-league camps tomorrow, let's take a look at what has transpired so far on Big 12 diamonds. This is the first of what will become my weekly conference rankings. The "previous" that you will see reference below refers to each team's ranking in the preseason coaches poll. The order of the teams hasn't changed. No one has shown quite enough to be moved up or down yet. Heck, Nebraska and Kansas State haven't even played yet. But it was tempting to move Kansas and Texas A&M up a notch and Missouri down. Sure, Texas started 0-3 but its showing in the Houston Classic demonstrated that it's business as usual for Augie Garrido's crew in Austin. The opponents' RPI is merely the average RPI of the teams' opponents to date, taken from the final ranking from

1. Texas (4-4, prev: 1, oRPI 96)
Longhorns have recovered from season-opening sweep at surprising San Diego to win four of five, including 2 of 3 in the though Houston Classic. The game Saturday night against Rice was as good as early-season college baseball gets. After Texas ace Kyle McCulloch and Rice stud Joe Savery hooked up for for a 2-2 tie through seven innings, Rice was able to break through against the Longhorn bullpen and eventually took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. With one on and two out, freshman Kyle Russell blasted a two-run, opposite-field, pinch-hit shot into the Crawford boxes at Minute Maid Park to give Texas the win. Russell is a 6'5" masher who bats lefty and looks like the mirror image of a young Richie Sexson. This weekend, Texas travels to Stanford. As their year-in, year-out postseason success shows, the Longhorns may sacrifice some off the won-lost record with its tough early-season schedule but it pays off come tournament time.

2. Nebraksa (0-0, prev: 2, oRPI n/a)
Huskers open Thursday at Charleston Southern, who lost to Missouri last Friday. They play in the Homewood Suites Shootout in Charleston, S.C. this weekend against N.C. State, The Citadel and Richmond. The Wolfpack were #19 in the RPI last season.

3. Missouri (2-2, prev. 3, oRPI 187)
Bad opening weekend for the Tigers in South Carolina. Has the black cloud hovering over the Mizzou athletic department enveloped the promising baseball program? Ace starter Max Scherzer closed a door on a finger on his pitching hand and missed the opening weekend. He's not expected to pitch this weekend, either. Tigers have a three-game series at Louisiana-Monroe this weekend, a team that Texas Tech pounded by a combined 47-19 in three games earlier this season.

4. Baylor (3-0, prev. 4, oRPI 291)
Bears opened with a sweep of Stephen F. Austin, a school that hasn't fielded a baseball team since 1995, and a lambasting of Texas-Arlington. Hard to get much of a gauge on the new-look Bears from that. Top starters Ryan LaMotta and Cory VanAllen were both sharp in their initial outings, each hurled five shutout innings with little resistance. This weekend, Baylor will host Califorina, which finished 61st in the RPI last season but did not make the NCAA tournament field. Guess it will be the battle of the Bears.

5. Oklahoma (5-1, prev. 5, oRPI 180)
Here's another ID: Insufficient Data. The Sooners struggled to beat Texas State in their opener but Texas State knocked off Texas Christian on Tuesday. Oklahoma has pounded the weak teams on its schedule but was pounded by Lamar, a non-tournament team in 2005 that finished 69 in the RPI. Chuckie Caulfield is off to a 12 for 27 start and Kevin Smith has driven in 10 runs for the Sooners. This weekend, Oklahoma will play in the very tough Coca-Cola Classic in Houston. They'll play No. 5 Rice, No. 19 Long Beach State and will have a rematch with Lamar.

6. Oklahoma State (2-1, prev. 6, oRPI 50)
The Cowboys have had perhaps the toughest slate early on, playing tourament teasms South Alabama and Arkansas plus a George Mason team that was 74th in the RPI. The results were decidedly mixed. Oklahoma State's booming bats were alive and well in two victories in which it combined to scored 28 runs against S.Alabama and Georg Mason, hammering four home runs in the process. But the Cowboys were no-hit by three pitchers against Arkansas. This weekend, Youngstown State will visit Stillwater. We won't know any more next week than we do now unless, of course, the Cowboys flop. Realistically, expect a bunch of runs and a bunch of homers for Adam Carr and company this weekend but we won't know about OSU's pitching staff until sometime next month.

7. Texas A&M (4-0, prev. 7, oRPI 60)
You really have to look at the results on the field in college baseball. In football or basketball, Northwestern State won't strike fear into any of the Big 12 schools (though the men's hoops team almost beat Missouri). In baseball, however, the Demons were 39th in the RPI last season and made the NCAA tournament. So it was actually a nice season-opening sweep for the Aggies last week, even though two of the victories were by one run. It's a nice start for new A&M coach Rob Childress, the former pitching guru at Nebraska who has to be thrilled by his team's early 1.45 composite ERA. This weekend's opponent, Northern Colorado, isn't very highly regarded.

8. Kansas (6-2, prev. 169, oRPI 169)
Terrific week for Kansas, who won two of three at Stanford. Gus Milner continued his hot start and has already driven in 16 runs this season. Sean Land and transfer Ricky Fairchild beat the Cardinal. Only ace Kodiak Quick, who transferred to Kansas from Stanford, was defeated. Ritch Price's early-season schedule doesn't get any easier this weekend as the Jayhawks head to California for a tournament which includes No. 25 USC, Vanderbilt and surprise No. 15 San Diego, who swept Texas in three games last week.

9. Texas Tech (4-3, prev. 9, oRPI 114)
Larry Hays has had an up-and-down start to his 20th season at Tech. After beating weak La-Monroe three straight to begin the season, the Red Raiders lost all three games in the ultra-tough Houston Classic but were competitive in all three games against Rice, Tulane and Houston. This weekend, Tech will host St. Johns, 49th in last season's RPI and made the NCAA tournament.

10. Kansas State (0-0, prev. 10, oRPI n/a)
Brad Hill will kick off his third season at the helm of the Wildcats this weekend with three games at the Texas-Arlington Invitational, which includes KSU, UTA, Oral Roberts and Illinois State. Not too easy but not overly tough. Good early season litmus test for the improving K-State program.

AFL: week 3 roundup

Here are some thoughts looking back at Week 3 of the AFL season and looking ahead to Week 4. Teams are listed in order of the Week 2 power rankings. The new ranking will be posted on Saturday.

1. Nashville, 2-1 (W3: lost to Chicago 56-55; W4: vs. Colorado, Sat., 7 p.m.)
Kats lost a heartbreaker at Chicago in the league's first overtime game of the season. Nashville dominated statistically but was only able to get the game into OT on a hook-and-lateral play that sent Cornelius Bonner into the end zone on the the final play of regulation. Kats gave Rush the short field a couple of times with lost fumbles and Chicago scored on a missed field goal. Chicago is a good team, though, so Kats should still feel good about themselves as one the league's best. Any questions about contender / pretender status can be answered this week with a quality showing against Colorado. This will be one you will want to watch.

2. Georgia, 1-2 (W3: lost to Tampa Bay 61-60; W4: at Las Vegas, Fri., 9:30 p.m.)
Force coach Doug Plank always seems to have that sort of repressed smile but he's got to be ready to spit nails over the Force's losses. Last week, the Georgia defense struggled to get stops against the Storm, getting only a fumble recovery and a end-of-half situation in 10 Tampa possessions. Nothing wrong with the Georgia offense, however. Chris Jackson has emerged, as hoped, as a worthy replacement for Troy Bergeron. Chris Johnson had a big game last week as well. On top of all that, is there a better red-zone receiver than Derek Lee, well except for Damian Harrell? This week's game is huge for Georgia. Sure they're better than their record but 1-3 is 1-3.

3. Austin, 3-0 (W3: beat Kansas City 37-33; W4: at Dallas, Fri., 7:30 p.m.)
If the Colorado-Nashville game this week is Main Event #1, the Austin-Dallas game is 1A. The Wranglers put up their third straight excellent defensive effort in an extremely hostile environment in Kansas City. Still, they didn't get any big plays offensively. 37 point won't get it done in Dallas. A win over the also-undefeated Desperados would make me a believer in Skip Foster's bunch once and for all.

4. Dallas, 3-0 (W3: beat Columbus 52-38; W4: Austin, Fri., 7:30 p.m.)
Dallas was a little sloppy in beating an inferior Columbus team but defensive posted a 50% stop rate, easily enough to defeat the Destroyers. Austin likes to win ugly and will try to maul the pretty-boy Desperados in what will be a fascinating matchup of contrasting styles. Terrill Shaw came back to earth a little bit after Week 2's career performance but Will Pettis stepped up again and is establishing himself as an Ironman of the Year candidate.

5. Colorado, 3-0 (W3: beat Las Vegas 65-55; W4: at Nashville, Sat., 7 p.m.)
The Crush had me worried for a second there, last week, trailing Vegas 35-27 at halftime. Terrible week for Colorado offense: 3 stops in 13 possessions! Seriously, how good is this offense when it puts up 65 on an off-night? The defense finally made some plays this week, too. They'll have to make more this week in the great matchup with Nashville.

6. Utah, 1-2 (W3: lost to New York 84-81; W4: at Arizona, Sat., 8 p.m.)
Leave it to the irrepressible Blaze to take part in one of the most memorable AFL games ever in only its third game. 165 points - second-most ever. 20 touchdown passes by the two quarterbacks - a new record. Incredible. Utah has taken the great offense/no defense style of football to the extreme. They are to the AFL what the Paul Westhead-era Loyola Marymount teams were to college basketball. Utah has been the best team in a weak division but, still, has lost 2 of 3. With San Jose getting healthy, Danny White's crew simply has to start getting some defensive stops. This week will be a key road test for Utah as Danny White and many of the Blaze players return to familiar stomping grounds. Utah is a better team than Arizona but they need to show that they are learning to win the close one.

7. Philadelphia, 2-1 (W3: lost 47-33 to Orlando; W4: vs. New York, Sun., noon)
Uh, gee, I guess the Soul missed Tony Graziani after all. Matt Sauk did fine when he was able to actually get the ball from the center. Sauk fumbled five times in the game. Lost in the maze of Soul mistakes was the fact that the defense put up another fine effort. It'll have to do the same this week against the red-hot offense of Aaron Garcia and company.

8. Chicago, 1-2 (W3: beat Nashville 56-55 in OT; W4: at Los Angeles, Sat., 9:30 p.m.)
The Rush finally got a much-needed W. Like Georgia, Chicago has been much better than its record but you can't reasonably expect to bounce back from 0-3. The Rush won it when Mike Hohensee boldy went for two after the Rush scored on the second possession of overtime to cut Nashville's lead to 55-54. Matt D'Orazio hit Cornelius White for the two-point conversion to win it for the Rush. This week presents an excellent opportunity for Chicago to even its record when the visit the flagging Avengers.

9. Columbus, 1-2 (W3: lost to Dallas 52-38; W4: at Kansas City, Sun., 1 p.m.)
Even John Kaleo admits that the Detroyers can't pass. That's kind of a problem in arena football. Columbus was only able to hang with Dallas last week because of sloppy play by the Desperados. This week, Columbus looks to right its ship at winless Kansas City.

10. Kansas City, 0-3 (W3: lost to Austin 37-33; W4: vs. Columbus, Sun., 1 p.m.)
The Brigade are a hit in Kansas City but a win would be a nice gesture for their adoring fans. For the second straight week, Kansas City came up just short on the game's final play. They have to be licking their chops this week with the Destroyers coming to town. It's now or never for the Brigade.

11. Los Angeles, 1-2 (W3: lost to Grand Rapids 66-41; W4: vs. Chicago, Sat., 9:30 p.m.)
The quarterbacking situation in LA is an absolute mess. You can't win in the AFL without quality quarterbacking, not even against Grand Rapids. Brian Mann has his moments but must develop a repore with one or two receivers beyond Kevin Ingram. The defense had a bad week at Grand Rapids but the 66 points allowed were exaggerated by the offense's mistakes. This week, LA will have to get better in a hurry to fend off a very good Chicago team hungry to get back to .500.

12. Tampa Bay, 2-1 (W3: beat Georgia 61-60; W4: vs. Orlando, Sun., 2 p.m.)
One of the classic AFL rivalries is renewed this week when the Predators take on the Storm. Bobby Sippio stepped up with a big performance last week and may be emerging as a top-notch complement to Lawrence Samuels. Shane Stafford was outstanding against Georgia. The Storm really seems to be on the verge of establishing something big.

13. Las Vegas, 1-2 (W3: lost to Colorado 65-55; W4: vs. Georgia, Fri., 9:30 p.m.)
Craig Whelihan continues to turn in big plays - for both teams. Joe Douglas took advantage of the extra attention paid to Marcus Nash with 4 touchdowns against Colorado. But it really comes down to Whelihan - can the Gladiators line keep him upright and can he take care of the ball?

14. San Jose, 1-2, (W3: beat Arizona 58-50; W4: at Grand Rapids, Sun., 1 p.m.)
This week will be the third game of a five-game road trip for the Sabercats, who are expected to get James Roe back this week. They managed to put up plenty of points with Calvin Schexnayder as the featured guy and having Roe back should make them plenty dangerous going forward. Don't forget that Barry Wagner will be back eventually, as well. Defensive question marks still abound for San Jose. With games at Chicago and Utah coming after this week, this is simly a must win for the Sabercats against the inferior Rampage.

15. Orlando, 2-1 (W3: beat Philadelphia 47-33; W4: at Tampa Bay, Sun. 2 p.m.)
Look, I realize that Jay Gruden is a Hall of Famer. I realize that the Predators are 2-1. But I still don't think this is a good football team. I still think they should be 0-3. And I think they'll start to prove me right this week in Tampa. Sorry, Orlando fans, it's just the way I feel.

16. New York, 2-1 (W3: beat Utah 84-81; W4: at Philadelphia, Sun., noon)
I know that Utah's defense is putrid but, come on Aaron Garcia, 24-26 and 10 touchdowns? That's ridiculous. Garcia, Swayne, Horacek and company will find the going much tougher this week in Philadelphia. This week's game will determine who will be in position to run with Dallas in the Eastern Division race.

17. Grand Rapids, 1-2 (W3: beat Los Angeles 66-41; W4: vs. San Jose, Sun., 1 p.m.)
Hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again.

18. Arizona, 0-3 (W3: lost to San Jose 58-50; W4: vs. Utah, Sat., 8 p.m.)
Thought this season might be the tipping point for this edition of the Rattlers and looks like I was right. If they can't beat expansion Utah - at home - this week, the season is toast. It won't be easy but with Sherdrick Bonner back last week, at least they look like a professional football team.
Sunday, February 12, 2006

AFL: Brigade gameday

11:44 a.m. - First impressions
The floor of Kemper Arena is covered with the unmarred surface of a brand new football field. Danni Boatwright is over to the side, chatting up the suddenly famous Wingman. The stadium is filling fast. There was already quite a stir when the Brigade came through the tunnel for pregame stretches. There is a dancing snow cone bustin' a move in the aisle. Ah, the sights and sounds of Arena Football.

As the local Arena Football expert and officially sanctioned media professional (or what HST would call a media wizard) I felt it was my duty to record my observations from this, my first in-person AFL game. Well, to tell the truth, I just really don't have anything better to do and I brought my computer.

My seat is a precarious one. I'm right behind the south end zone, right up against the rear wall underneath the goalpost support. Having watched many arena games this season, I have good reason to fear for the life of my laptop. These guys are big and fast and they come hurtling against the sideboards with an unnatural momentum. I've seen quite a few player / fan communions but, thankfully, none that resulted in bodily injury. Nevertheless, if you cough up the $110 for a front row seat, stay alert.

I see that Brian Poli-Dixon is suited up. Been wondering what happened to him. I know he has to learn the arena game, no small task. Plus he's built pretty slight. If he's not the offensive specialist, it'll be interesting to see him play defense. But, on offense, I've seen how a big, tall receiver like Colorado's Andy McCullough or Georgia's Derek Lee can really be an important weapon in the red zone. (And, yes, the arena game has a red zone. And it's not the whole field.)

More to come ...

12:28 p.m. - How I learned to stop worrying and love the arena game
Since I have made myself a local AFL guru, perhaps I should take the opportunity to explain my genesis. I had watched only a couple of Arena games up to last season. Didn't know much about the game or league. But with the Sprint Center going up, I knew that Kansas City would at some point get a shot at getting a team. So I started to watch and quickly became a convert. Since then, I tape every game I can get with my TiVo and satellite dish. Entering this week, I've watched well over half the games played and listened to several others through Web broadcasts.
(Consumer warning: If you ever desire to listen to a Dallas Desperados game, do everything you can to find the broadcast of the opposing team. The home radio broadcast is the most annoying thing I've encountered since the heyday of Gilbert Gottfried.)

There is a whole dynamic to arena football that sets it apart from the stadium game as a truly unique and different sport, not just a gimmicky imitation of the NFL. The game has tremendous pace and rhythm. No replays. Running clocks. With so many two-way players, it is fascinating to watch the mano-a-mano matchups.

Most of all, I really love the concept that teams are expected to score a touchdown on the majority of their possessions. Through last night, teams have scored on 276 of 514 possessions, or 53.7%. The best teams push that conversion figure to 75-80%. If you can't score at that pace, you can't win consistently in the AFL.

Last night, the New York Dragons beat the Utah Blaze 84-81 in the second-highest scoring game in Arena history. They fell two points short and Utah had the ball deep in New York territory when the game ended. In such a contest, it's the defensive stops (if one ever occurs) and the quirky bounces of kickoffs off the net that decide the contest. Most games go to the final minute, even the ones that don't look so close on the final scoreboard. A quick touchdown and an onsides kick can get teams back into a game in a hurry. I still love the stadium game, the battles for field position, teams establishing a power running game, etc. But, as I say, this game is different. Has a whole different dynamic. And it truly stands on its own as a game to appreciate.

So enough of that. I just looked up and saw that the place is nearly full and the crowd is really buzzing. I'll be back with some more comments on the first half. Hope you enjoy the game. This is nuts - I've never been in Kemper Arena when it was even half-capacity.

12:54 p.m. - Do I have any eyebrows left?
Man, these pyrotechnics are hot. I have to admit. I not much one for these pregame shenanigans. Flip the coin. Kickoff. That's plenty for me. The crowd seems to like it though. Of course. Is there a fire marshal in the house?

1:05 p.m. - Obstructed view
The cheerleaders are standing right in front of me, blocking the coin flip which involves the league's enormous commissioner and the mayor. This is a complaint. Really.

2:15 p.m. - Halftime. No, really. This time it's halftime.
Not the prettiest first half I've seen. Having watched all of Austin's games this season, I can tell you that no team, except perhaps Orlando, can uglify a game like Skip Foster's bunch. Wranglers' WR/LB Kevin Nickerson, who went to Central High and Central Missouri, scored two first-half touchdowns in his return to K.C.

We had our first Brian Poli-Dixon sighting of the season. He didn't do much. On defense he was playing "mac linebacker." That's the one that just sort of slides back and forth like a foosball piece. Dixon does not look like a defender. Andy Kelly didn't look his way but with his height, I was surprised Dixon didn't get a look down near the end zone.

The half seemed to end once when Steve Smith was tackled inbounds. Kelly frantically signaled for a timeout but the inattentive officials allowed several seconds elapse. As they stood around and deliberated, Austin cleared out and headed for the locker room, while Kelly jumped and down and waved his arms frantically in the officials' face.

After about three minutes and with the Cobras ready to start their halftime presentation, they finally decided to put 3. 5 seconds back on the clock. Austin was recalled from the bowels of Kemper Arena and Tim Seder missed a long field goal to end the half.

These end-of-game, end-of-half time issues are the biggest complaint that I have about the AFL at this point. I'm glad they don't have instant replay, which I think really disrupts the rhythm of a game. But there should be some apparatus in place that allows officials to check the clock at the end of a half. The Brigade were burned on this last week at Orlando. Utah suffered the same fate last night. Seems like it would be an easy loophole to close. Gigantic AFL commissioner David Baker is speaking at the postgame press conference. I might ask him about this but, at the same time, I'm concerned he might crush me like a grape.

It's 24-17 Austin. Kelly threw one touchdown. Entering this week, he trailed New York's Aaron Garcia for the all-time league lead. But Garcia threw 10 touchdowns last night in that wild game at Utah. (Utah quarterback Joe Germaine also racked up 10 TD passes. Both tied for second-most in a league game. Garcia is among those who hold the record of 11.)

2:57 p.m. - One quarter to go
Brigade trail 31-30 after three quarters. Action was more brisk in the third quarter and the crowd is still really into the game. Tim Seder just missed a long field goal, which was really a glorified punt. This puts the Brigade down a possession, pending the outcome of the current Austin set. K.C. has nine possessions in the game, Austin has completed eight. If the Wranglers score, the Brigade will be behind by one possession. A field goal puts them down 1/2 possession. This is how you have to score Arena football and is why I always keep a simple scorecard of drive outcomes. Of course, I also apply average point values, etc. Austin has 6.20 efficiency right now, the Brigade are at 5.14.

5:31 p.m. - And they all went home semi-happy
It was another last minute disappointment for the Brigade as Andy Kelly overthrew a receiver in the back of the end zone as time expired. Austin won 37-33. Wasn't the most artistic game, not many of the big plays that earmark most AFL contests.

After the game, there seemed to be a lot of fans who took advantage of the AFL's policy of having players come back onto the field to sign autographs after the game. Players from both teams milled around, chatting with fans, as did AFL commissioner David Baker. The game was a success at the gate, to be sure. And the crowd was into it all the way through and stayed till the end. Sometimes it seemed like they didn't know what they were cheering for. As Austin coach Skip Foster told me after the game, it sometimes takes awhile for fans to learn the nuances in Arena games. Of course, that is sort of my mission with my Arena notebook - to shorten the learning curve.

It was an interesting game and the Brigade are showing that they can go toe-to-toe with good AFL teams. In the razor-thin margin of error in most Arena games, it is the playmakers who make the difference: the big hitters, the ballhawks, the surehanded receiver who can grab the floater in the red zone. So far, the Brigade haven't had as many of those players or those plays as their opponents. The result? 0-3.

But does that really matter to 16,532 fans who packed the stands at Kemper this afternoon? I don't think so, not at this point. Brigade coach Kevin Porter praised the atmosphere created by the fans, who seemed to definitely take their cues from their collective Arrowhead Stadium background. (At the end of the national anthem, was that a Chiefs! I heard?) He also hoped that K.C. showed enough to bring them back next week.

My guess is that the Brigade showed plenty.