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The Whims and Foibles of Sports...

"Yebbit" thinks the Saints can salvage the season!

by J.W. Miller on 11/17/14

I once knew a guy I called “Yebbit,” because no matter what opinion I would toss onto the table, he would respond with “yeah, but …” and then go off on his own ill-informed tangent 180 degrees the other way. Sometimes right, and sometimes wrong but always in a direction opposite my own. So I took that person’s “yeah, but …” response and came up with the name “Yebbit.” The loyalists in Who Dat Nation are channeling Yebbit today after the Saints’ disappointing 27-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. If you haven’t participated in these discussions already at work or in the grocery or at school, they are not hard to envision.

“To have a 4-6 record at this point in the season is hugely disappointing,” says the Unbeliever. “Yeah, but …” responds Yebbit, “they have lost four games by a total of nine points, so they could just as easily be 8-2 right now.” The Unbeliever invokes the wisdom of Coach Bill Parcells, who once said: “You are what your record says you are.” “Yeah, but … the Saints are still tied for first place in the dog ass NFC South,” responds Yebbit. The Unbeliever corrects him that Atlanta has the tie-breaker, so the Saints are really in second place right now. “Yeah, but … they play Atlanta again, at home, and Carolina at home and Tampa is so bad they could play on the runway at Tampa International Airport.” 

The Unbeliever notes that the Saints go on the road this week to Baltimore, which has won four in a row at home, as well as at Chicago, where the Saints never win. “Yeah, but … the Bears have lost three of four at home this year and I’d take a split with the Ravens and Bears.” Don’t forget that the Saints also go to Pittsburgh, which is 4-1 at home. “Yeah, but … their home loss was to Tampa! That makes them beatable anywhere!” Well, two straight losses at the Dome has taken the bloom off the so-called invincibility of the Superdome as a place that visitors fear. "Yeah, but ... name one other place where nobody wants to play. " 

Well, part of home-field advantage is stopping the other team, which the Saints haven’t been able to do very well. “Yeah, but … four of the teams they have yet to play have worse defenses. The Saints defense is ranked No. 21 today, but Atlanta, Tampa, Chicago and Carolina are all ranked lower.” The Saints defense isn't going to get much better if it continues to lose players at key positions. “Yeah, but … those other teams don’t have an offense like we do.”

Drew Brees has not exactly been his old self in the clutch this year. His turnovers have cost more games than he has late comebacks. “Yeah, but … I would still rather have the fourth best passer of all time running my offense, and Jimmy Graham on the receiving end.” Don’t you think Brees often depends too much on Graham even when he’s double- and triple-covered? “Yeah, but … he’s got Cooks and Colston and Stills, all of whom caught at least four balls Sunday.” What good are wide receivers when Brees has almost abandoned the downfield pass? He didn't complete a pass over 17 yards, maybe because the offensive line is not giving him enough time? “Yeah, but … he can still keep a defense off balance with quick pops to the running backs. The backs caught 15 balls against Cincy.” 

Bottom line is the Saints are 4-6, and you have to admit they are not a very good football team right now. “Yeah, but … we’ve got six more games, and anything can happen!”

Don't let colder weather be your excuse to not exercise!

by J.W. Miller on 11/13/14

Earlier this week, my friend and golfing buddy Scott Whittenburg sent me pictures of the first snowfall of the season at his home in Missoula, Montana. A former vice chancellor at UNO, Scott moved to the Far West a couple years ago and, with the exception of the shorter golfing season, has found his little bit of heaven. How can you not love it when you see the picture out his back door of a snow-covered meadow bordering a meandering creek that backs up to a mountain range? That is pure National Geographic! 

Scott’s snowfall picture is purely coincidental to the 45-degree reading in South Louisiana this morning or the mid-20 readings in Lexington. But, ladies and gents, to borrow the catchline from Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming!” It might not snow this year in the swamplands of south Louisiana, but this week’s drop in temperatures is a good reminder to start planning your winter workouts. You’re never too old to stay in shape and maintain your conditioning, no matter if it’s snowing outside or whether it’s just a bit less pleasant than you prefer. Colder weather is no excuse to stop exercising, especially for those of us who have graduated to the exalted status as "seniors"! 

Regular readers of this space know I’ve been running for more than forty years, in good weather and bad and despite some nagging injuries along the way. I am right now in the middle of rehabbing a pulled thigh muscle which has kept me off the streets since September 15 and probably will into the new year. But a forced layoff only means you go to Plan B and find a substitute for your preferred routine. My alternative is an exercise bicycle, which is boring as mud but which allows me to work up a sweat over a 30- to 40-minute session. 

You may not know this, but inside this lithe, 175-pound frame is the heart of a 225-pound defensive end. At least, that is how much I weighed and the position I played in high school. I took the reverse route from most college students, who put on the Freshman 15, when I lost about forty pounds my first two years of college. My secret was the Luden’s menthol cough drop diet. Whenever I would get hungry, I would pop a cough drop, which instantly killed my appetite until I needed another. I started running when I received my induction notice on June 1, 1971, thinking I’d better get into some sort of shape before basic training killed me. Over the next three weeks, I worked up to two miles and basic training became more mental tedium than physical agony. But I digress. 

My message today is to avoid the months of Fatember and Flabuary by adopting or maintaining a regular workout program. I have a guide on the “Stay Fit” tab of this page that includes some easy stretching exercises that will strengthen your core muscles. As my own satisfied customer, I can assure you that these exercises over the past three years have reduced my recurring back pain and given me a great start to the day. That is important to a card-carrying Sixty-Something. I can’t stress more sincerely: if you don’t use it, you will lose it. Get out there and do something! 

Don't look now, but SEC could get shut out of playoffs!

by J.W. Miller on 11/10/14

As Southeastern Conference schools continue to cannibalize each other, their worst nightmare is quickly becoming reality. The early giddy fantasy that three of the four teams in college football’s first-ever playoff would carry the SEC label is gradually disintegrating into a possible SEC Shutout. Disciples of SEC football do not like to consider the possibility that their meat-grinder schedules might work against the best football conference in America and produce exactly zero representatives when the selection committee makes its final decision on December 7.  

The irony of SEC hopefuls being sunk on Pearl Harbor Day increased Saturday with Texas A&M’s upset of a formerly invincible but suddenly fumbling, bumbling Auburn, which gave the Tigers two losses. How can it happen, you cry, with No. 1 Mississippi State still undefeated and Alabama slipping back into the top four with its road victory at LSU? Watch closely, grasshopper. 

The Bulldogs go to Alabama this weekend, so one of them will lose. If Bama wins, then State drops probably to No. 4, still in the mix. However, the Bulldogs wind up the season at arch-rival Ole Miss, which already has played its way out. If the Rebs win, State has two losses and drops out of the top four. If Bama wins, it still has the Iron Bowl game with Auburn. Worst case: Bama beats State and loses to Auburn then State loses to Ole Miss. Every SEC contender has two losses, which will make it tough for them to overcome the handful of hopeful one-loss teams. 

Speaking of whom, the group of non-SEC teams inching toward the top cluster all face favorable schedules. Florida State should waltz home undefeated with games against Miami, Boston College and Florida to take over the top ranking. Oregon would hold onto No. 2 with wins over two average teams, Colorado and Oregon State. Of the others hoping to move into the top cluster, TCU seems to be the pollsters’ darlings and has only Kansas, Texas and Iowa State remaining. The Longhorns could surprise the visiting Frogs, but that’s a longshot. Arizona State inserted itself into the conversation with a resounding win over Notre Dame on Saturday and has two easy home games with Oregon State and Washington State before heading to arch-rival Arizona on Thanksgiving Saturday. Baylor has a bit tougher road with Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State, but it plays the Cowboys and Wildcats at home. Ohio State also is moving up the chart and has only Minnesota on the road before coming home to face pathetic Indiana and even more pathetic Michigan. Sweeps by any of these teams could propel them into the mix if one or more of the aforementioned teams slip up.

That paints a darkened scenario for the SEC, but one that must be measured according to the committee’s published standards. You can read it for yourself on the committee’s website:, but this is what it says: “The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory) and other relevant factors that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”

That probably doesn't make anyone between the Ohio River and the Sabine feel any better. For two SEC teams to make the Final Four, the best-case scenario would be for Alabama to beat both Mississippi State and Auburn and for Mississippi State to beat Ole Miss. Only then would the earth’s rotation return to normal in the southern football hemisphere. 

Is it time for UNO to bring back football?

by J.W. Miller on 11/06/14

Before I left the Athletic Director’s chair at the University of New Orleans in 2009, I submitted a report to the administration on how the university could bring back football, a sport it sponsored between 1965-1971. Of course, it would not be Division I football that enamors the masses, but it would be football and it would create a platform where alums could gather, tailgate on crisp fall afternoons and generate some school spirit that was so mournfully lacking. 

I bring this up because a story in a recent Sports Illustrated issue informs us that despite the negative press that college football has generated recently with antitrust lawsuits, efforts to unionize and player misconduct, seven schools from NAIA up to Division II introduced new teams this year. According to the National Football Foundation, the number of football teams across all divisions is 767, an all-time high. The current buzzword behind all this is an effort to increase “co-curricular” activities which means that every activity on campus contributes to the university’s educational mission. 

That last statement was one the former UNO administration never could quite understand. My proposal would have created a university-supported club team that could be an attractive outlet for the region’s many student-athletes who are not quite ready for NCAA football but who would be willing to pay for the opportunity to keep playing. The idea would be to recruit about twenty-five local players and a similar number from out of state. Even if half the locals were eligible for scholarships such as the TOPS program, the other dozen or so would pay full in-state price, and the out of staters would, presumably, pay full non-resident prices. 

According to the UNO website, those numbers for one academic year are $7,242 for in-state tuition and $20,852 for out of state. As any parent with college students in the house knows, the numbers grow significantly when you add in another $10,000 for room and board, books and fees. So if UNO recruited a dozen local kids at the full price of about $20,000, another 13 at the discounted rate of $13,000, and twenty-five out of staters at about $33,600, you get a grand total of fifty new students and $1,249,000 in revenue that you didn’t have before football. 

That does not take into account additional revenue from ticket sales, concessions, souvenir sales or the increased donations that usually follow athletics. Of course, you have expenses, but even factoring in costs of uniforms, travel and medical care would not get close to the potential cumulative revenue. In addition is the argument of “intangible benefit” - school spirit, pride and loyalty - that the previous administration never could understand. 

Another report submitted to the administration in those days included a chart showing that free advertising from newspaper stories and media coverage of UNO's existing athletic teams had a market value of roughly $3 million if the school tried to purchase such publicity. And 99% of those stories put the university in a positive light. UNO did sponsor a club team for a couple years, and it achieved some early success, but in typical UNO fashion, the administration was too fixated on what was and could never envision what might be. Trying to make a logical case for football at UNO turned out to be another familiar  exercise of howling at the moon. 

Unfortunately, after a positive start, the present administration seems to be tracking the path of the old one. Such things as Privateer Awards for top out-of-state students and tuition waivers for graduate assistants have been jettisoned. It just does not appear that UNO is doing anything to attract top out-of-state students looking for an educational bargain in a great city. Enrollment that had hit 17,300 before Katrina, and fell to 12,000 Katrina, now hovers around 8,500, according to my sources. With the twin crises of falling enrollment and decreased state funding taking most of the attention, reviving club football probably is not a consideration. You can’t take something off the table that was never on the table. 

The SI story did ask and answer one question that UNO administrators should consider: Q: Why start a football team in 2014? A: To become a “sepia-toned piece of genuine Americana” because for 3,000 or more people to show up at a college activity and almost nobody goes home unhappy is a good thing.

Kentucky football fans needn't slash wrists at reality

by J.W. Miller on 11/03/14

This message is in the public interest to Kentucky football fans who are sharpening the Cutco collection and contemplating personal harm after the team’s three-game losing streak: “Sit down, pour a Makers Mark on the rocks and say a prayer that Joker Phillips is happy in his new life.” And to add this week’s most oft-heard disclaimer, J.W. Miller Sports approves this message.

Full disclosure compels me to admit yet again that I am a huge Wildcat fan, graduate and lifelong acolyte of all things Blue. I am also a reluctant realist. Don’t get me wrong. That perspective did not come from some altruistic “you can’t win them all” claptrap I heard in thirty years of professional and college athletics. I, too, was sitting at home alone on Saturday screaming at the television as Kentucky spent the first 57 minutes of its game at Missouri conducting a Miss Manners seminar on polite submission. 

The team that attacked No. 1 Mississippi State the week before with 390 down-the-field passing yards and an offense that snapped at the Bulldogs' heels all night apparently missed the bus in Lexington. In their place was an embarrassing run-run-run-punt effort that didn’t crack glass all day. The team’s most prominent weapon, QB Patrick Towles, completed only two passes the first quarter and could convert only 3-of-21 attempts on third- and fourth-down all day. If it sounds like I am still sharpening the cutlery, forgive me, but I am reflecting the frustration of a fan base that sees a team that looks almost there one week before returning to where they were two seasons ago the next. 

(As a footnote, you can blame my angst over the Missouri performance partly on my incessant loathing of offensive coordinators who never fail to outsmart themselves week after week. They stop calling plays that are working on the excuse that the next opponent saw the film and will be trying to stop it. I wonder what Lombardi would have said if his offensive coaches suggested a few less carries for Hornung and Taylor because the Cowboys might be expecting them to run the ball?)

Three straight losses are disappointing after Kentucky started off 5-1, which included their first two SEC victories since Truman was president, and an overtime loss at Florida. Big Blue Nation was giddy, and some doubtless had them penciled in for the Final Four. Now, 5-4 Kentucky has three games remaining, and the reality looks more like 6-6 at best and 5-7 at worst. Their final home game is this weekend against always-tough Georgia followed by a fighting chance at Tennessee. The final game is Double Jeopardy: 1. On the road. 2. At hated rival Louisville, who had No. 2 Florida State on the ropes for a half. 

So here is where the doctor prescribes another long sip of Makers and a suggestion to look back at where the Kentucky football program WAS when Joker Phillips, a genuinely nice man, was head coach. In his three years after inheriting a respectable program from Rich Brooks, Phillips’ teams went 6-7, 5-7 and 2-10 overall while going 4-20 in the SEC. Worse than that, as we have written in this space, his recruiting had fallen to the point that the signing of a two- or three-star prospect included the fact that Kentucky had beat out the likes of Tulane, Louisiana Lafayette and East Carolina for the player. Nothing against those fine institutions, but none of them could play in the SEC, and neither could Kentucky. 

Now, let’s look to where the Kentucky football program IS in the first week of November, nearly two full years after Mark Stoops was hired on November 27, 2012. His first recruiting class actually included some four-star prospects and was ranked in the top 25 in the country. His second class had even more four-stars and a couple of five-star players and again was ranked in the top 25. Those are the young players who form the core of what could become a very good team next year and even better the following year. A good model for where Stoops’ program may be headed is Mississippi State, who in Coach Dan Mullen’s six years have gone from the bottom cluster with UK, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Arkansas to No. 1 in the world. Mullen’s recruiting classes throughout that period have not been spectacular, but have consistently ranked between No. 20 and No. 40, while his teams hovered around the .500 mark before breaking into the top cluster. 

So things don’t look so bad in Lexington. Put away the Cutco and be happy for what you have, which is a football program with a future. It also doesn’t hurt that basketball season is under way. Now, that's reality, Kentucky style! 

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Koepka edges Poulter in Turkey

American golfer Brooks Koepka claimed his maiden European Tour title after overcoming a two-shot deficit in the final round to win the Turkish Airlines Open by a stroke on Sunday. Koepka edged England's Ian Poulter, who had a chance to force a play-off but missed a five-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

Troubles mount at Michigan

As if 5-5 Michigan hasn’t had enough problems this season, senior DE Frank Clark was arrested Sunday on charges of domestic violence. The 6-foot-2, 277-pound Cleveland native was  held without bond in the Erie County jail. AD Dave Brandon already has resigned, and Coach Brady Hoke is likely out. 

Week 12 NFL Picks
(Will this be turnaround week?)

Take Browns +3 at Falcons
Take Patriots over Lions +7
Take Bills over Jets +4.5
Take Cardinals +6.5 at Seahawks
Take Cowboys over Giants +3.5

Last week 1-4
Season Record 19-35-1

Former LSU Tiger Jeremy Hill enjoyed a happy homecoming as he rushed for 152 yards  in the Bengals' 27-10 thumping of the fast-fading Saints.