Monthly Archives: September 2011

Prediction Friday (MLB, CFB, NFL)

Gonna hit you with a bunch of prognostications today, a few of which are sure to be right.

So much is happening. The weather is so beautiful. My mood is such that I’m almost giddy. I want to get up from my chair and fly around outside because I actually think I could fly today. And there are no artificial supplements feeding my good cheer, it is 100 percent natural.

Because these moods come along so infrequently, I’m not 100 percent sure how to proceed. But my work doesn’t step aside when my mood brightens, so let’s get to some sports. OK?

I’m going to start with the four divisional series in baseball, which I would like to think is enjoying a spike in interest based on the amazing end to the regular season. I have and always will love baseball because it’s the game I have the most history with. I have come to understand the nuances and intricacies of the game. I relish its romance. A baseball game can captivate me for hours. For some of you, I recognize that is not the case.

All four series coming up interest me. So let’s do a little predicting, what say you?

American League

Tampa Bay vs. Texas – The Rays fought like crazy to overtake Boston for the American League wild card. They are going with a

Tampa Bay rookie Matt Moore gets the start today against Texas. He's one of the most heralded prospects in the game but is he ready for a Game 1 assignment?

rookie left-hander, Matt Moore, in today’s opener against Texas’ C.J. Wilson. The Rangers are tough at home and played in the World Series last season. There is no reason to pick Tampa, except that the Rays have this way about them. They don’t hit particularly well, except when they need to. Their pitching can be suspect at times, except when it’s not. Manager Joe Maddon seems to pull all the right strings; his decision to go with pinch-hitter Dan Johnson over Sam Fuld in the ninth inning against the Yankees on Wednesday night was brilliant. Especially when Johnson homered to tie the game, which the Rays won in extra innings. Texas has a great offense, just like last season. But is there enough pitching? I like Tampa to win this series in five games.

Detroit vs. New York Yankees – What a great series. The Tigers’ Justin Verlander opposes C.C. Sabathia of the Yankees today. So, you’re thinking 1-0? 2-1? Watch it be 9-8. Detroit has a solid team and its acquisition of pitcher Doug Fister at the trade sideline was one of the great deadline moves of the 2011 season. The Yankees are the Yankees. I think Joe Girardi did a brilliant job of managing New York this season. This team isn’t very deep in its starting rotation and the offense has been hit and miss. But here it is with home field advantage throughout the American League playoffs. I’m going with the Tigers in five games.

National League

Arizona vs. Milwaukee – For most, the NLDS has no intrigue. Milwaukee and Philadelphia are shoo-ins. Well, I’m here to tell you that Milwaukee and Philadelphia are shoo-ins. Wait a minute! No that’s not what I’m here to tell you! I’m here to write a bunch of sentences that end in exclamation points! OK, calm. I do think Milwaukee has too much for the Diamondbacks, but all everybody has done all summer long is underestimate Arizona. This team obviously gets its competitive fire from manager Kirk Gibson. And if the Brewers indeed do win this series, it will be over Gibson’s beaten-up body. I think this series will be a fight to the finish. Milwaukee clearly has the better personnel. But that Gibson guy can’t be discounted. Milwaukee in five.

St. Louis vs. Philadelphia – OK, I really don’t even want to go here. The Cardinals are a little to close to my heart for me to make a logical pick in this series. Everybody in baseball – and I mean everybody – is picking Philly. With good reason. The Phillies have Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee ready to go in Games 1 and 2; the Cardinals will counter with Kyle Loshe and Edwin Jackson. If the Cardinals had Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to go in these games I wonder if anybody would give them a chance? Probably not. Well, I’m giving St. Louis a chance. There’s something about this team. I think they’ll push the Phillies. I think they can win the series. Am I picking them? Do I really have the gumption to do that? No, I’m picking Philadelphia in five games. I hope I’m wrong.

College football picks (home team in bold)

Texas A&M 26, Arkansas 21 (Arlington, Texas)

South Carolina 33, Auburn 14

Clemson 28, Virginia Tech 26

Alabama 31, Florida 17

Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 20

Iowa State 24, Texas 21

Baylor 36, Kansas State 27

Texas Tech 40, Kansas 34

NFL

Houston 28, Pittsburgh 24

Minnesota 27, Kansas City 21

Chicago 23, Carolina 17

Buffalo 30, Cincinnati 20

Cleveland 17, Tennessee 14

Philadelphia 27, San Francisco 14

Washington 28, St. Louis 20

Detroit 27, Dallas 24

New Orleans 40, Jacksonville 17

Atlanta 24, Seattle 7

New York Giants 23, Arizona 14

San Diego 37, Miami 17

New England 38, Oakland 27

Green Bay 30, Denver 13

Baltimore 24, New York Jets 20

Tampa Bay 23, Indianapolis 14

Implosion of the Red Sox, Braves bullpens

It would be irresponsible to try and blame the collapses of the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves on any one or two individuals. Collapses of these proportions – Boston led the American League wild-card race by 9 games on Sept 3; Atlanta had an 8 1/2-game advantage on Sept. 6 – don’t happen without contributions from the entire roster.

Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.

But I was curious about the back end of these games, where both the Red Sox and Braves had been dominant for most of the season.

Boston, which had an 82-51 record on Aug. 27 and was 8-21 the rest of the way, usually gave the baseball to Daniel Bard in the eighth inning and Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth. For the most part, that formula worked.

Bard didn’t allow a run in 24 appearances in June and July. Not a run. And Papelbon came to late September having not allowed a run in 21 previous outings.

In his last four, tough, Papelbon was touched up for seven hits and four runs in 4.2 innings, blowing two save opportunities including the most costly one Wednesday night against the Baltimore Orioles. After dominating the first two Orioles hitters, Papelbon allowed a pair of doubles and a game-winning single.

Bard had a 2.03 ERA going into September and had allowed only 35 hits in 62 innings, striking out 63. Opposing teams almost never got to him.

But in 11 September games, Bard had a 10.64 ERA. He allowed 14 runs – 13 earned – in 11 innings. He walked nine. He went from dominant to doormat.

In Atlanta, the late-inning bullpen woes were just as pronounced.

For the Braves, left-hander Jonny Venters was entrusted with the eighth inning most of the season. Then hard-throwing right-hander Craig Kimbrel took care of the ninth.

They, along with seventh-inning specialist Eric O’Flaharty, made the covers of magazines. O’Flaharty kept right on pitching well through September. The same can’t be said for Venters and Kimbrel.

On Aug. 26, Venters had a nearly invisible 1.10 ERA. In 73.2 innings he had given up only 38 hits and nine earned runs, walking 32 and striking out 81. He was the nastiest southpaw reliever in baseball.

Then he became Santa Claus. In his final 15 appearances, Venters had a 5.65 ERA. He allowed 15 hits and nine earned runs in 14.1 innings. He also compounded his problems by issuing 11 walks. Venters, clearly, was pitching on fumes during the season’s final five weeks and he had to pitch out of a bases-loaded eighth inning jam against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night to preserve a 3-2 lead.

A lead Kimbrel couldn’t hold.

A pitcher with 47 saves, a pitcher who limited opposing hitters to a .178 average, allowed a game-tying run in the ninth inning, continuing a late-season slide.

Kimbrel pitched in 38 consecutive games without allowing a run until Sept. 9, when his problems began. In his final eight appearances of the 2011 season, Kimbrel allowed seven hits and six runs in 7.1 innings. Before that stretch he had an ERA of 1.55. In those eight games – the most important games of his season – Kimbrel’s ERA was 7.37.

So here are the stark numbers involving the lock-down relief pitchers from the two teams with historical late season collapses.

In their combined final 38 appearances, here are the numbers for Venters, Kimbrel, Bard and Papelbon:

37.1 IP    40 hits    33 runs   32 earned runs   25 walks   45 strikeouts   7.72 ERA

For perspective, here are the combined numbers for those pitchers in their first 259 combined appearances:

265 IP    157 hits   56 runs   52 earned runs   84 walks   339 strikeouts   1.77 ERA

And finally, their combined numbers for the 2011 season:

302.1 IP   197 hits   89 runs   84 earned runs   109 walks   384 strikeouts   2.50 ERA

Interesting numbers. Baseball numbers lend themselves toward being interpreted a variety of ways. But it’s obvious late-inning bullpen woes were integral to the collapses of both the Red Sox and Braves. Getting outs late in games, as difficult as it is, does tend to be more consistent than most other aspects of baseball. So if you’re looking for the place to start when trying to explain why Boston and Atlanta are sitting at home this postseason, start with the supposedly reliable guys in the pen. Turns out, when needed most their reliability disappeared.

Rooting for Ryan Braun

If you believe in integrity, then by all means pull for Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers to go 3-for-4 or better tonight in the Brewers’ regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

If that happens, Braun, Milwaukee’s talented left fielder, will have edged out New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes for the National

The Mets' Jose Reyes (7) high-fives with Justin Turner after Reyes' bunt single in the first inning Wednesday against the Reds. Reyes left the game for a pinch-runner, protecting a slim lead in the race for the National League batting lead.

League batting championship.

As I write this, Reyes is finished for the season with a .3371 average. Braun is at .3345 and needs a big game tonight.

It would serve Reyes and his manager, Terry Collins, right if Braun can pull this off. After Reyes singled in his first at-bat Wednesday afternoon against the Cincinnati Reds, he was taken out of the game. With, I’m sure, his approval.

The 28,816 Mets fans at Citi Field, I’m sure, wanted to see more of Reyes, who can be a free agent at the end of the season. Instead, he was pulled after singling to lead off the bottom of the first inning in a game the Mets won, 3-0.

He wasn’t injured. There were no other reasons for him to leave the game. He left, I’m sure, because he and Collins decided his lead in the batting race was safe and they didn’t want to risk Reyes losing some points off his average.

After Wednesday’s Mets win, Collins said Reyes asked before the game to be taken out if he got a hit, and so Collins met that request, because ‘he deserves that respect. However, Collins said he felt terrible about the move, knowing fans paid good money to see him play.

“I respect the game enough to know people came here to see Jose Reyes,” Collins explained. According to Collins, he felt he earned the respect of his players this summer, and to not repay that respect by ignoring Jose’s request could jeopardize ‘what was built.’

As Justin Turner came on the field to pinch-run for Reyes, however, some fans booed. I don’t blame them. What a cheap way to protect a batting average advantage, especially considering it was 70 years ago that Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox decided to play in both games of a double-header as he pursued a .400 mark.

Williams started the day with a .39955 average, which would have been rounded up to .400. But the ever-proud Williams didn’t want anything to be rounded up, so he played. In the first game, a 12-11 win over the Philadelphia Athletics, Williams went 4 for 5 to raise his average to .40397. Even so, he was in the lineup for Game 2, even though an 0-for-5 in that game would have sent his average plummeting to .39956. Again, it would have been rounded up to .400. But Williams wasn’t a “round it up” kind of guy.

“If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I’m going to be a .400 hitter all the way,” Williams is quoted as saying in an “Outside the Lines” piece to be televised today, according to ESPNNew York.com.

Reyes is no Ted Williams, obviously. It’s despicable that he was OK with coming out of Wednesday’s game. Fans who paid to get into that game deserved better than to see a player and his manager attempt to protect a batting title.

Collins was unapologetic about his plans for Wednesday’s final game.

“If he gets a hit early, there’s a chance he won’t be around for long,” he told reporters before the game.

On Tuesday, Collins said: “I’ll tell you what, that’s part of this business. I’ve actually seen guys being pitched around because somebody on their team is in a race.”

Reyes indicated that he has friends and family who will be at his house on Long Island tonight to watch the Brewers’ game against Pittsburgh.

What is going on here?

Reyes, who has been injured for a good chunk of the season, owed it to himself, Mets fans and the organization to stay in Wednesday’s game, whatever the outcome. Had he added another couple of hits in the game then he would have locked Braun out of the race for the batting title.

As is, the door is still open. And wouldn’t it be sweet justice if Braun had a 3-for-4 game. That’s definitely a possibility.

Big 12 QBs having their way

All 10 schools in the Big 12 - that’s how many there are, right? 12? – have played at least three games. A few have played four. And what we’re finding out so far is that most of the quarterbacks in this conference are on fire.

Big 12 starting quarterbacks – Texas really has three QBs sharing the duty – have completed 715 of 1,033 pass attempts, a .692 completion percentage. You can’t go out in your backyard and complete .692 of your passes to the kids in the neighborhood.

Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden has been a completion machine so far in 2011.

Those QBs have passed for 8,512 yards and 71 touchdowns, compared to only 24 interceptions. In some cases, competition has been lacking. But the hot-quarterback trend continued in the Oklahoma State-Texas A&M and Missouri-Oklahoma games over the weekend.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III – or as the cool people call him, RG III – has completed 70 of 82 passes without throwing an interception. He has 962 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those numbers have vaulted Griffin to near the top of the Heisman Trophy discussion. Now the question becomes: How long can he remain there?

Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, who didn’t make it in professional baseball as a pitcher, has been throwing more as the Cowboys’ quarterback. In four games, Weeden is 142 of 191 for 1,592 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has made thrown more passes than any quarterback in the country, but maintained a 74.4 percent completion percentage.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is another with gaudy QB numbers: 88 of 122, 1,022 yards, five touchdowns. Texas Tech’s Seth Doege has hit on 89 of 115 pass attempts for 943 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Of the 13 quarterbacks nationally to have completed 70 percent or more of their passes, four are from the Big 12. Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannahill and Missouri’s James Franklin are close to that percentage; they have combined to complete 152 of 238 passes for 1,877 yards.

I pick 15 players each week to consider for the Heisman Trophy and right now Weeden, Jones and Griffin III are on my list. In what order? I’d probably have to go with Weeden at No. 1 followed by Griffin and Jones. Several other quarterbacks are also in the mix, including Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Houston’s Case Keenum, Boise State’s Kellen Moore, Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson and a newcomer to my list, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

* Should be an interesting matchup in Manhattan on Saturday between Baylor and Kansas State.

The Bears have been unstoppable offensively, starting with their season-opening win over TCU. Not only does Griffin have a lot of receivers to throw to but the Bears have had a decent running attack, too. Baylor ranks No. 2 nationally in total offense, averaging 594 yards per game.

But how about that K-State defense? The Wildcats, atrocious defensively in 2010, have been a whole lot better this season, ranking No. 6 in team defense. They haven’t played against an offense with Baylor’s weapons – Miami is a nice team, but not close to a great one – so this will be the Wildcats’ biggest test.

The five teams that rank ahead of K-State defensively are: Michigan State, Alabama, Central Florida, Virginia Tech and Florida. After the Wildcats at No. 6 are Wisconsin, Penn State, SMU and Texas.

* Yes, starting to grip a bit about the St. Louis Cardinals’ game with Houston coming up in a while. The Cardinals are a game behind Atlanta for the National League wild-card lead.

St. Louis has three games against the worst team in baseball, on the road. The Braves start a three-game set tonight with the best team in baseball, Philadelphia, at Turner Field in Atlanta.

On paper – man, sometimes I really loathe paper – the Cardinals look to have an edge. At the very least, St. Louis should be able to move into a tie for the wild card and host a Thursday one-game playoff against the Braves in St. Louis. But as the past week or so has taught me – as if I didn’t know before – you can never count on anything happening in baseball. It’s an extremely fickle sport. I’ll be watching tonight from pitch to pitch, out to out. If you hear a scream coming from the near west-side, it’s just me.

A big win for Kansas State

Kansas State’s defense was a little shaky in the second half. The Wildcats actually lost their once-comfortable lead against Miami, at Sun Life Stadium in South Beach.

But instead of letting the Hurricanes’ lead stand, K-State rallied for a go-ahead touchdown. And then the Wildcats stopped Miami at

Kansas State's David Garrett makes a stop against Miami (Fla.) running back Lamar Miller Saturday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

the goal line in the final minute for an impressive 28-24 win.

Kansas State, you have our attention.

This is the kind of road win that makes a big difference in a season. I don’t know many people who thought K-State could win this one, being that it was on the road against a good team. Miami isn’t a great team, but the Hurricanes certainly put more challenges in front of Kansas State than it faced in wins against Eastern Kentucky and Kent State to start the season.

For one, Miami has more team speed than the Cats had faced. Two, they’re bigger. Three, they were at home.

But Kansas State took control early. I still have reservations about Wildcats quarterback Colin Klein, but what this guy lacks in ability he makes up for in heart and desire. He makes plays. They’re not always pretty plays, but they’re almost always effective.

Klein doesn’t have a strong arm, but he was able to hurt Miami with his passing Saturday. He is always a threat to run and the Hurricanes’ defense was never really able to figure out how to cope with the K-State running attack. Klein’s ability to gain yards on the ground is a huge factor in that success.

He rushed for 93 yards on 22 carries against Miami. Running back John Hubert added 166 yards on 18 carries.

So far, the K-State running attack has been the most surprising aspect of the season, considering the Wildcats lost last season’s leading rusher, Daniel Thomas, to the NFL and the guy expected to be his replacement, Bryce Brown, has rarely gotten on the field.

I expected Brown, used marginally in the first two K-State games, to play a much bigger role Saturday. He did not. Hubert now has established himself as the No. 1 tailback and it’s unknown what kind of a role – if any – Brown will play in 2011.

Kansas State’s defense held up when it had to the most. Miami had the ball first-and-goal at the Kansas State 2-yard line with 1:52 remaining in the game. The Hurricanes had effectively moved the football for most of the second half after struggling to do so in the first half.

But the Wildcats dug in and stopped Miami.

It’s an impressive road victory. This Kansas State team is starting to get really interesting.

Baylor and its high-powered offense visits Manhattan next Saturday. Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III passed for five touchdowns – to five different receivers – during a 56-31 win over Rice on Saturday.

Baylor is 3-0 and owns a win over TCU. Kansas State is 3-0 and owns a win over Miami.

As far as early Big 12 showdowns go, Baylor-Kansas State suddenly looks like a great one. Can’t wait.

Of Missouri, KSU-Miami, baseball, etc.

This is what Friday on the blog is going to be for me. I’m just going to go with a stream of consciousness thing, with an emphasis on the college football and NFL weekend.

* The whole Big 12 mess, as I wrote about again this morning, is laughable. You have two kingpins (Texas and Oklahoma) and a pathetic wannabe kingpin (Missouri) doing all the talking. By the way, Missouri needs to shut it. I know MU chancellor Brady Deaton is the chairman of the Big 12. However, I’m not sure why and I’m not at all sure what the chairman of the Big 12 does. Deaton is talking a lot lately without saying anything. He professes his school’s commitment to the Big 12 all while winking and nodding toward the SEC. Listen, Missouri, you got shut down 15 months ago when you made all kinds of overtures toward an uninterested Big 10. And unless you have something in play with the SEC, this would be a good time to do what Oklahoma and Texas tell you to do. After all, that’s how this conference works now.

* I’m curious to see how Kansas State does on the road Saturday against Miami (Fla.) The Hurricanes are by no means a great football team yet, nothing like “The U” used to be. But Miami is improving and new coach Al Golden, I believe, will be successful now that that you-know-who booster is behind bars. You can’t compare the job Golden did at Temple to the one Bill Snyder did at Kansas State more than 20 years ago. Golden was only at Temple for five years. But the Owls had only two winning seasons in the 26 previous seasons before Golden was hired. During Golden’s final two years, Temple was 17-8. The guy can coach. Too bad he inherited what turned out to be an NCAA infractions bombshell waiting to happen.

* Kansas State’s takes its nationally top-rated defense to Miami for Saturday’s 2:30 game. How does that sound, K-Staters? Let’s see how long it lasts. No doubt, the Wildcats’ defense is improved. It couldn’t be much worse than last season. But shutting down Eastern Kentucky and Kent State is one thing; shutting down Miami and the high-powered offenses in the Big 12 is something else. Through two games, K-State is allowing 164 yards per game. That’s impressive, no matter the competition.

* Kansas State’s offense also will be tested by a fast and athletic Miami defense that gave up just six points to Ohio State last week. Now Ohio State is way, way down, but there are still some athletes on the field for the Buckeyes. Is this the week Bryce Brown gets his big chance at tailback for K-State? Or is he in the Witness Protection Program? I’m not convinced quarterback Colin Klein has enough to be a threat against top-notch defenses. I know Klein is big and can run some, but where’s the arm strength? Can he get the ball down the field or even to the sidelines consistently while moving in the pocket. Today’s game should be illuminating for K-State.

* Interesting facts about the Miami tradition. At least one former Hurricanes player has scored a touchdown in the NFL in every week since Week 15 of the 2002 season. That spans 141 weeks, an incredible statistic. Last week three ‘Canes scored TDs: Washington’s Santana Moss; Houston’s Andre Johnson; and Denver’s Willis MaGahee. Miami has had 21 players chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2000. Ohio State is next with 17. So while Miami’s team hasn’t been as good the past several years, the program is still churning out outstanding talent.

* Miami has turned the football over six times in its two games. K-State, meanwhile, has been plagued by penalties early on. Let’s see if the two teams can clean things up today.

* If Kansas State can win today, the Wildcats just might be able to get on a roll. KSU opens Big 12 play next Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium against Baylor, then is at home against Missouri the following week. After that are road games at Texas Tech and Kansas. Then K-State runs into a buzz saw: Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, at Texas. But the Cats could make some hay the next four Saturdays.

* Yes, the Cardinals’ ninth-inning meltdown against the New York Mets on Thursday was almost more than I could take. It caused my mood to take a frighteningly sour turn, which my poor wife had to suffer through. But I’m better now. And still hopeful. The Cardinals have to make up two games on the Braves. There are six to play. St. Louis has the Chicago Cubs at home for three before finishing the regular season with three at Houston. Atlanta is on the road at Washington and plays Philadelphia and home to finish. There’s an advantage for the Cardinals. But there are also two games to make up.

* I was happy to see that Lance Berkman will be back in St. Louis next season. He’s been a great complement to Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday in the middle of the Cardinals’ order. Of course, the Pujols contract situation is very much up in the air. So, even when the season finishes (whenever that might be) there’s that to deal with. Pass the Tums.

* Loved the Thursday debuts of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” probably my two favorite comedies. “Modern Family” and “The Middle” are right there, too. I think James Spader will be a great addition to “The Office” and Ed Helms will be interesting in Steve Carrell’s role as office manager. With so much to do in the opener in terms of establishing new roles, I thought the debut was an 8 out of 10. And I throw this question out there: Has Amy Poehler supplanted Tina Fey as the funniest woman on network television? Discuss, please. I’d love your feedback.

Time for predictions

College football

Georgia Tech 34, North Carolina 30

Alabama 24, Arkansas 20

Oklahoma State 31, Texas A&M 24 – This is my favorite game of the weekend in college football. I can’t figure out why A&M is a four-point favorite, even at home.

Clemson 23, Florida State 17

California 28, Washington 20 – I always think a lot of the Jeff Tedford-coached Bears. And they always let me down. Will this season be any different?

Oklahoma 30, Missouri 20

LSU 21, West Virginia 10

NFL

New England 34, Buffalo 24

Carolina 24, Jacksonville 17 – Cam Newton has another big day. How about this guy?

Cleveland 20, Miami 17

Tennessee 26, Denver 17

Philadelphia 28, New York Giants 21 – Michael Vick has been cleared to play. But unless he’s cleared to remain healthy the Eagles’ position is precarious.

Detroit 27, Minnesota 17 – The Lions win another one on the road two weeks after beating Tampa Bay.

San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 19

New Orleans 34, Houston 31 – Can’t wait to watch this shoot-out. Go Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. I say that only because I have them on my fantasy team. I love my fantasy team.

New York Jets 21, Oakland 17

San Diego 40, Kansas City 10 – Hey, Chiefs fans, if you think this game will be closer drop me a line. But do you really believe that?

Baltimore 24, St. Louis 13 – My Rams are being my used-to-be Rams with every loss. I, as you know, run up front.

Green Bay 26, Chicago 20 – The Bears are a fashionable pick at home. My fashion isn’t very good.

Arizona 28, Seattle 12

Tampa Bay 20, Atlanta 17

Pittsburgh 30, Indianapolis 13

Dallas 29, Washington 24

Last week, I picked nine of 13 winners in my college picks and was 13-3 in the NFL. That’s not against the spread, so take it for what it’s worth.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. I’ll check back over the week with my thoughts on the Kansas State-Miami game.

Will Perry Ellis have what it takes?

Perry Ellis has made his big decision to become a Kansas Jayhawk.

Hard to argue with the choice. I think if I had a chance to play basketball at KU, I’d probably give it a shot. Growing up a Duke fan, as

Perry Ellis smiles during Wednesday's news conference, at which he announced his decision to play basketball at Kansas.

Ellis did, I’m sure there were times the Jayhawks made him sick to his stomach. But as he got to know more about the program and the people in charge of running it, I believe Ellis’ decision became fairly easy.

That’s to take nothing away from Kansas State, Wichita State and Kentucky, the other three finalists for Ellis’ services. But KU is KU and when there’s a recruiting battle to be won, the Jayhawks are going to win most of them.

But let’s talk about something else here. Let’s talk about what kind of player the 6-foot-8 Ellis will be at KU and in the Big 12, provided there is a Big 12 by the time he arrives next summer.

Heights coach Joe Auer said something interesting after Wednesday afternoon’s news conference at which Ellis made his decision public. He said the coaches who have been recruiting Ellis have remarked to him that they’re not sure how they’ll use Ellis. That’s he’s kind of in between a small forward and power forward and really can’t be categorized.

At Heights, somewhat out of necessity, Ellis has been mostly a back-to-the-basket offensive player. I’m not sure that’s where he excels. I think he can be good in the low block as a rebounder, but I expect Ellis to become more of a perimeter scorer at the next level. Not necessarily a dangerous three-point shooter, although I think that’s an area of his game that will improve. I think Ellis will be able to step out on the wing and made 15- to 18-foot jump shots consistently.

And if a defender tries to take that away from him, I believe he’ll be able to put his head down and drive to the basket.

More than anything, Ellis is an athlete. He can run and jump and will be great in Bill Self’s up-tempo transition game.

I’m not sure Ellis will be a star at KU. Maybe he will. He’s so unselfish and such a good teammate. You can see those traits on display at Heights. Ellis feels no need be the headliner, although he usually stumbles on that role by chance. He’s perfectly willing to allow other players to score most of the points if that’s what is best for the team.

At times, that can be maddening. When I’ve watched Heights play in the past, I wonder why the rest of the Falcons don’t look for Ellis more. But something is working because the Falcons have won three Class 6A state championships in a row and are probably favored to win No. 4 in March. The one constant, as a player, has been Ellis.

He averaged 22.1 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, so it’s not as if he never has the basketball in his hands. But if you expect Ellis to have the same scoring numbers at Kansas, I think you’ll be disappointed.

I see him as a player who can average 13-15 points per game, shoot a high percentage from the field, grab a lot of rebounds and defend anywhere on the floor. Ellis will play a lot of minutes because of his ability to defend, block shots and rebound.

Somebody compared him to former Duke standout Shane Battier and that seems like  a fair comparison. Battier, too, was a versatile player. But, remember, he wasn’t an immediate smash for the Blue Devils, averaging just 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as a freshman in 1997-98 and just 9.1 points and 4.9 rebounds as a sophomore.

But as Battier became an upperclassmen, his numbers spiked. As a junior he averaged 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. And as a senior, those numbers increased to 19.9 and 7.3.

I’m not sure Ellis will ever score close to 20 points per game for the Jayhawks. But I think he could be a better rebounder than Battier and, if he’s able to add 15 to 20 pounds to his frame, be the same type of rugged defender Battier was at Duke.

I hope the best for Ellis, a nice kid who was overwhelmed some, I’m sure, by the whole recruiting process. He definitely was out of his element during Wednesday’s news conference at Heights, answering questions politely but as quickly as possible. His quiet personality doesn’t quite fit yet with becoming a force as a college player.

But there is time for Ellis to develop, physically and mentally. His career at KU will be interesting to follow.

Why the Cardinals matter

There’s nothing like being a fan of a major league baseball team. The highs and the lows of 162 games, I’m convinced, create some insanity in those of us who follow our teams closely.

My level of insanity is probably higher than most thanks to nearly 50 years now of being a St. Louis Cardinals honk. I love the

St. Louis right-hander Kyle Lohse delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. Lohse pitched well, which made me very happy.

Cardinals. I hate the Cardinals. And every emotion in between.

But I will forever be a Cardinals fan.

That said, St. Louis was 10 1/2 games out of everything on Aug. 25. The season was going nowhere. The team was playing flat. And I was just not into it like I should have been.

There is a strange sense of peace that comes when your team falls out of contention. Baseball fans know what I mean by that, I’m sure. You no longer have to grind along with your team every day. You’re more likely to find something else to do when a game is on television. You actually start to have a life outside of baseball and that team you so identify with, even though the people on that team have no idea who you are.

Being a fan is such a strange thing. But once you’re a fan, it’s impossible to stop being one. This is a curse that was passed to me from my father, who introduced me to the radio voices of Harry Carey and Jack Buck, who introduced me to Cardinals baseball.

Fast forward to now: Sept. 20, 2011. The Cardinals have found themselves over the past couple of weeks while the Atlanta Braves are gagging like a vegetarian being handed a leg of lamb. As play begins tonight, St. Louis trails Atlanta by two games in the loss column and both are speeding in decidedly different directions.

The Cardinals begin a six-game homestand tonight against the New York Mets. The Chicago Cubs hit St. Louis later in the week and the Cardinals finish the regular season at Houston, which is having a season like the old Houston Colt ’45s had in the first couple of years after expansion.

Atlanta, meanwhile, is playing at Florida, then goes to Washington before finishing up at home against Philadelphia. St. Louis has a much easier schedule remaining.

And so, as a fan, you start to do the math. And you start to play out these scenarios in your brain, which has been so overloaded throughout the decades by one scenario after another. Hopes rise, but with a single loss or a single Atlanta win those hopes are momentarily dashed. You might understand, theoretically, that baseball is a game that can change on a dime. Thus, so is a season. Yet it’s impossible not to treat every game as life or death, especially as we approach the final nine days of a regular season that started back in late March.

I was in New York City on Opening Day. Wichita State was to meet Alabama in the NIT championship game that night. I spent the late afternoon watching the Cardinals at home against San Diego, a game they would lose just 30 minutes or so before the opening tip of the Shockers-Tide game.

In some ways, it seems like 20 years ago. In another, it feels like yesterday.

A baseball season is literally a journey for those of us who pay close attention. When it starts, the possibilities are endless. And when it ends, there is a sadness and a jolt back to the realities of a life without baseball that I never really adjust to.

I love other sports. I enjoy covering college football and college basketball as much as I ever have. But there’s always something missing when baseball is over.

So I cherish these games that matter late in the season. That doesn’t mean I’m not a basket case. It’s funny, because my wife, Debbie, is the one who acts out her apprehension. I normally just sit in my chair and watch unless something dramatic happens. Then I yell, which leads to her jumping from her chair, which leads to me apologizing, which leads to both of us laughing.

Until the next pitch, and then I need to focus.

If there are things about a person that most identify him or her, near the top of my list is being a Cardinals fan. It’s who I am. I don’t wear Cardinals gear very often. I’m not like that. But I am into this team full bore. Tonight, the Cardinals go against Mets starter Mike Pelfrey. I have known Mike since he was a 12-year-old pitching at Westurban. I think he’s a great guy and in any other game, I would want him to throw a shutout.

Tonight, though, I hope the Cardinals score five or six runs in the first inning. And then keep adding on. I could use a blowout win and a Florida win over Atlanta tonight. When it’s going well, I get greedy. I’m not necessarily proud of this aspect of my personality. But there’s not a thing I can do about it.

Tough times in Lawrence, KC

The Kansas City Chiefs are off to a historically slow start. And the Kansas Jayhawks, after raising the hopes of their fan base with two wins, slapped that fan base back to reality Saturday with an historically-bad performance at Georgia Tech.

When you’re establishing history in sports, it’s best when it’s of the positive nature. For the Chiefs and the Jayhawks, it most assuredly has not been.

Many Chiefs fans are talking about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as if he’s already in Kansas City. If there is such a thing as a

The loss of running back Jamaal Charles is a big blow to the Chiefs.

race for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Chiefs have roared out of the gates. It’s up to Indianapolis, Seattle and perhaps a few other teams to catch them.

KC has allowed 89 points in two games. To Buffalo and Detroit. Remember when Buffalo and Detroit was the answer to the question: Name two cities you have no desire to visit? Now Buffalo and Detroit are both 2-0 and among the most satisfying early-season stories in the NFL thanks in part to their annihilation of the Chiefs.

Buffalo beat Kansas City 41-3 at Arrowhead Stadium. Detroit clobbered the Chiefs, 48-7, at Ford Field.

Already, Kansas City has lost tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles due to injuries. All are out for the season.

It’s such a long NFL season and it’s difficult to know how to define bad and good, especially this early in the season. There are some 2-0 teams out there that don’t look the part. And there are some teams off to slow starts that have the ability to turn things around.

The Chiefs, though, don’t look like one of them. Not with these injuries and not with the lethargic way Kansas City has played since being blown out by Oakland in the final regular-season game of 2010. Kansas City lost that one, 31-10, then was destroyed by Baltimore, 30-7, in a wild-card playoff game at Arrowhead.

Throw those two games into the equation, and the Chiefs have been outscored 150-27 in the last four games that matter. In the games that don’t matter – the 2011 preseason – Kansas City was 0-4. Which means they probably mattered more than they should.

The Chiefs have sold back with interest the confidence they built early during the 2010 season. What we saw then was a team that looked to be headed in the right direction with a core group of young players on which to build. Problem is, Kansas City hasn’t built on that core group. So far, the 2011 draft class is a huge bust with first-rounder Jonathan Baldwin still to get on the field after fighting with a teammate during the preseason.

Todd Haley is getting some much-deserved flak for the way his team has started the season, especially because he admits to pushing lightly through preseason drills and games. This team obviously didn’t respond to Haley’s ways and still looks like it needs a wake-up call.

General manager Scott Pioli is starting to take some criticism, which he deserves. Despite having quite a bit of cash under the NFL’s salary cap, Pioli chose not to add pieces to his team. So the Chiefs are left without much depth, which is one of the big reasons the loss of key people to injuries is such a huge blow to Kansas City.

Prepare for a terribly long season, Chiefs fans.

Now, on to Kansas. Did you see that defensive performance against Georgia Tech on Saturday? Actually, calling it a “performance” is not fair to the word “performance.” Don’t you actually have to tackle someone for it to be a defensive “performance?”

I though the Jayhawks, brimming with confidence after a couple of nice wins, would be in that game in Atlanta. And the Jayhawks were – for a half. But the ceiling busted in the second half and Georgia Tech rolled up 768 yards of offense. You have to be really bad defensively to allow 768 yards. Kansas, which has had more than its share of bad teams and horrific defenses, had only twice allowed 700 yards or more: 799 to Nebraska in 1978 and 717 to Oklahoma State in 1988.

Georgia Tech’s triple option offense was lethal, but the Yellow Jackets weren’t even ranked and lost to Kansas last season in Lawrence. In that game, Georgia Tech had 407 yards. That’s a lot, but it’s a far cry from 768.

In case you’re wondering, the worst KU defense ever was played by the 1989 Jayhawks, who allowed 45.6 points and 550 yards per game. Both numbers rank as the highest allowed for a single season in Kansas history.

Surprisingly, that KU team went 4-7, including 2-5 in the Big Eight in Glen Mason’s second year as coach.

Current Augusta football coach Roger Robben, from Bishop Carroll, was the leading tackler on that Jayhawks team. For what it’s worth, since most tackles didn’t occur until an opposing ball carrier or pass receiver was downfield.

“The surprising thing,” Robben said, “is that we had some defensive linemen on that team that ended up being pretty darned good. We had Gilbert Brown and Dana Stubblefield (both of whom became NFL standouts), but across the board we just weren’t quite there yet.”

Kansas didn’t allow more than 51 points in a game in 1989, though, or more than 650 yards.

Through three games, the 2011 Jayhawks have allowed 44 points and 550 yards per game, right with their 1989 averages. And the easy part of KU’s schedule; there are only nine Big 12 games left.

KU gets a week off before returning to action on Oct. against Texas Tech, in Lawrence. The Red Raiders have averaged 54.5 points and 564.5 yards in beating Texas State and New Mexico. Their quarterback, Seth Doege, has completed 63 of 77 passes for 727 yards and eight touchdowns.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks.

Jayhawks have our attention – for now

Kansas made me take notice last week with its impressive offensive display against Northern Illinois.

I suspect N. Illinois’ defense was a big part of that Jayhawks’ explosion and we should find out more about the Huskies on Saturday

Kansas sophomore quarterback Jordan Webb.

when they are at home against a really good Wisconsin.

But if KU’s offense is the real deal this is going to be a better season for the Jayhawks than I anticipated. And I didn’t anticipate a lot.

There is no doubt that Kansas has questions defensively. Northern Illinois rolled up and down the football field last week against KU.

But I will be front and center today, watching the Kansas-Georgia Tech game from Atlanta. Last season, you’ll recall, the Jayhawks upset the Yellow Jackets a week after dropping their home opener against North Dakota State. It was one of the most shocking wins of the season, a result no one could have ever predicted.

Now, I presume, Georgia Tech is all about revenge. And the Yellow Jackets have been even more impressively offensively than Kansas, rolling up 112 points and 1,258 yards of offense in beating Western Carolina and Middle Tennessee State. That’s a couple of patsies, for sure, but remember that KU’s defense hasn’t looked good yet, including allowing McNeese State a bunch of yards.

It looks like a shootout is on tap today, although I’m sure one of the emphasis points for Kansas this week has been to improve defensively. I wasn’t impressed with any element of the Jayhawks’ defense last week and I’m not sure how much room there is for growth. It looks to me like KU has made it a priority to improve offensively – which so far it has – and has not been as focused on defense.

Georgia Tech, I suspect, will score a lot of points. The question becomes: Can Kansas match the Rambling Wreck’s offensive output?

KU quarterback Jordan Webb looked like a legitimate Big 12 quarterback last week, making all the throws. He was pinpoint from the pocket and when rolling out and scrambling. He’s had games like that in the past, only to battle with consistency. I’m saying Webb is close to establishing himself as one of the fine quarterbacks in the the Big 12, which has a lot of good ones.

I also like KU’s running game, led by sophomore James Sims with the help of three exciting freshmen. Junior D.J. Beshears is a real weapon as a runner, receiver and returner. And the Kansas offensive line is experienced and talented. There’s no reason to think the Jayhawks won’t be a good to very good offensive team in 2011.

But the defense and a challenging Big 12 schedule will probably keep KU from winning more than four or five games. Considering that just a week ago most people were predicting two or three, that’s a vast improvement. A win at Georgia Tech would force us to re-evaluate, again, what Kansas is capable of accomplishing this season.

My weekend college picks

(I’ll keep my record both straight up and against the spread)

Georgia Tech 40, Kansas 31

Kansas State 24, Kent State 10

Boise State 40, Toledo 21 (Friday night)

West Virginia 24, Maryland 21

Auburn 27, Clemson 20

Texas 28, UCLA 17

Florida 30, Tennessee 20

Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 24

Wisconsin 47, Northern Illinois 20

Arizona State 28, Illinois 13

Miami (Fla.) 24, Ohio State 21

Florida State 20, Oklahoma 17

Stanford 41, Arizona 21

And the NFL

Pittsburgh 27, Seattle 10

Buffalo 24, Oakland 21

Arizona 20, Washington 14

Tampa Bay 28, Minnesota 24

New York Jets 28, Jacksonville 13

New Orleans 21, Chicago 17

Green Bay 31, Carolina 14

New England 30, San Diego 24

Baltimore 26, Tennesssee 7

Detroit 31, Kansas City 17

Cleveland 28, Indianapolis 17

Dallas 24, San Francisco 21

Denver 20, Cincinnati 17

Houston 34, Miami 24

Atlanta 24, Philadelphia 23

New York Giants 20, St. Louis 13