31 August 2010

Feeling like football

Photo courtesy of cougarstats.com

During my lunch break today, I drove to the store to pick up some cilantro and Worcestershire sauce for my wife. I rolled down my window and noticed a distinct chill in the air; it was closer to 70 degrees than 30, sure, but it definitely felt more like fall than summer. In addition, I was listening to ESPN radio and for the first time in a while I heard two guys talking college football. They were debating the merits of scheduling cupcakes or powerhouses for a team's out of conference schedule, and they each made some great points. It was such a welcome change from the endless talk about NASCAR and baseball and golf that I couldn't help but smile.

We're ramping up towards the best sports time of the year, November 1 through January 4. During that time we have the World Series, the start of the NBA season, college football, NFL and college basketball.

And today, for the first time, I feel like that blessed time is actually approaching.

On to today's video. The year is 2004. After going 5-7 in 2002 and 4-8 in 2003, the collective BYU fanbase was feeling pretty low. I was spared from the psychological trauma of losing to Nevada and getting shut out by Utah thanks to my time spent in Madagascar as a proselyting missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two years I was out of the country coincided perfectly with the worst two years of BYU football during my lifetime. In a way, it couldn't have worked out any better for me.

I returned home to Utah in December of 2003, and as BYU obviously did not play in a bowl that year, I had a full nine months to wait for the return of Cougar football.

The last time I had checked, BYU had gone 12-2 in 2001 and the offense was a high-scoring powerhouse. Despite my family's best attempts to acclimate me to the new reality that the Y was no longer any good, I could never bring myself to believe it.

September finally rolled around, and the first game on the schedule was at home versus Notre Dame. The last game I had seen BYU play against Notre Dame was in 1994, when the Cougars went to South Bend and beat the Fighting Irish 21-14. Yeah, there had been a 33-14 road loss to the guys in green in 2003, but as far as I was concerned, that had never happened.

BYU was going to win this game.

I remember it being abnormally cold for September 4, I remember John Beck's arm strength being impressive and I remember an absolutely fantastic throw and catch from Matt Berry and freshman Austin Collie to give BYU a 20-3 lead in the third quarter. BYU's defense, a strength of the team from 2002-2003, appeared to be as good as I'd heard.

Sure, Notre Dame scored on a 54-yard pass from sophomore Brady Quinn and then Berry threw a pick-six to make the finally tally closer than it should have been, but in the end, BYU came out with a victory, just as I had expected.

Thanks to Jennerstein for the video.

And for that day, BYU fans had hope that maybe the program was back on its feet after its long nightmare. Unfortunately, that season also gave us ugly losses to Syracuse, USC, UNLV and Utah, but at that moment, everyone was happy.

It's funny what a season-opening win can do.

The Deseret News layoffs

From the Associated Press:
Utah's longest publishing daily newspaper said Tuesday it will cut nearly half of its staff and consolidate breaking news operations with affiliated television and radio operations.

The Deseret News announced that 85 newsroom positions are being eliminated, although some staffers will be enlisted for a transition period. The layoffs include 57 full-time and 28 part-time employees.
This is sad news for anyone in the business of writing. The paper was founded in 1850, more than 150 years ago. For such a longstanding institution to be forced into this position is pretty amazing.

Though considering the recent fates of Newsweek magazine and the Washington Times newspaper, maybe this shouldn't be such a shock.

This is a sticky issue, and I know after newspapers put their product on the internet for free back in the late 90's it's been hard to put a lid back on that box, but you have to remember someone produces the news. Someone gathers it. Someone edits it. Someone creates the layout, whether print or digital. This stuff doesn't come out of thin air, and those who are responsible for informing us about the goings on in our cities and states and countries and world will be compensated for it.

This is the case unless the demand for news sinks so low there just isn't any financial incentive to do it anymore, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Maybe we'll see it once we reach the point of Idiocracy, but that's a while off yet.

BYU goes independent

Image courtesy byucougars.com

The talk has been going on for weeks now, but it appears the news is official: BYU football is going independent and the other sports at the university will join the West Coast Conference.
The move, which takes effect for the 2011-12 season, changes the face of major college sports in the western third of the country — at once weakening the Mountain West (BYU’s current home) and strengthening the WCC, whose members include three Bay Area schools: Santa Clara, St. Mary’s and USF.
This is huge for BYU, though in what direction is still unclear. There has been talk that ESPN wants to give BYU its own TV deal, and I imagine that was a big part of BYU's decision to try and make it on its own.

My initial reaction? I think this will work. I think BYU's exposure playing on ESPN instead of the mtn is huge, and the flexibility of scheduling different teams every year instead of playing the same old San Diego State and UNLV in football will also make the school more visible across the country.

I'll post more details as they come, but for now, I'm excited.

30 August 2010

Happy Football Week!

I'm amazed at how quickly the football season has arrived this year. Though considering all of the sports news we've had this summer: the World Cup, LeBron-O-Mania, Jefferson to the Jazz, BYU's independence rumors and quarterback controversy... I haven't had a lot of time to get bored and wish for September to hurry up and arrive already.

Because my time spent thinking about the upcoming season was so short, I'm not quite in the mood for football yet, and I get the feeling a lot of other people are in the same boat.

To remedy that, I'll be posting one BYU highlight every day this week, until gameday.

Today we have BYU at New Mexico in 2005. Prior to this game, BYU football was in a bad place. After a great 2001 season, head coach Gary Crowton pretty much ran the program into the ground from 2002-2004. He was fired before the 2005 season, and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall took over.

The first few games of the 2005 season weren't much to get excited about. The year started with a 20-3 loss to Boston College at home. After shellacking Div-II Eastern Illinois in game two, the Cougars lost to TCU and San Diego State, respectively. A 1-3 record was not what fans were hoping for with this new coach, and it didn't look like the program would get back on its feet any time soon.

The next team on the schedule was New Mexico. The Lobos are usually a decent team in the Mountain West, and while they never really fight for conference championships, you can count on them to finish around .500 in conference. The New Mexico defense is generally pretty good, and the team gives BYU a challenge almost every time they play.

After scoring first on an 11-yard pass from BYU quarterback John Beck to tight end Dan Coats with ten minutes left in the first quarter, the Cougars felt confident that maybe this could be the game where BYU makes its way back to prominence.

However, UNM scored 24 points to BYU's seven over the next two quarters, and the Cougars found themselves down 27-13 with time running out.

Here's the highlight:

Video courtesy Cougcan of cougarboard.com

I watched this game in the office of my college's newspaper, and I must admit my interest was pretty low for most of it. However, during that final touchdown drive I was glued to the screen and jumping up and down after every big play. It's the game that brought me fully back into the BYU football fold.

BYU finished the season winning five of its last eight games... nothing spectacular, but better than we'd seen in the recent past.

Since the 2005 season, BYU has won 43 of its 52 games and the universe is on the correct track again. Many fans look at this New Mexico game as the turning point for the program.

Here's hoping trend continues, and I think it will, assuming this two-quarterback system thing works out.

Go Cougars!

27 August 2010

BYU is going with a two-quarterback system for 2010

Photos courtesy The Deseret News

This is from multiple sources, but here's Deseret News writer Jeff Call:
Junior Riley Nelson will start for BYU when the Cougars open the 2010 season against Washington on Sept. 4.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Friday that Nelson will take the first snaps against the Huskies, but reiterated that true freshman Jake Heaps will also play.

I'm glad to see Bronco reads my blog, and it's nice to know what we'll see next Saturday from the quarterback spot.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said of the two-quarterback system: "We have two starters."

Can't get much clearer than that.

While there are examples of successful two-quarterback teams, there are just as many, if not more, where the system blew up and contributed to a failure of a season.

Last year, Michigan played freshman Tate Forcier, a mobile quarterback with a pretty good arm. Head coach Rich Rodriguez also had freshman Denard Robinson, who was mostly a running QB and inferior to Forcier in the eyes of many college football fans. Rodriguez continued to give Robinson fairly heavy minutes as the season went on, and Forcier lost a lot of his confidence and/or became upset that he wasn't the clear starter and leader of the team. Michigan started the season 4-1 but won only one of their last six games. Other factors definitely played into this failure, but the two-quarterback system didn't work here.

An example that hits closer to home is BYU in 2000. Three quarterbacks got significant playing time; Charlie Peterson, Bret Engemann and Brandon Doman all had at least 90 pass attempts on the season, with Peterson starting the year and Doman finishing it. The team finished 6-6, losing to San Diego State and Colorado State along the way. To be fair, the Cougars did have to play at Florida State and Virginia, both tough games, but this team underachieved, thanks largely in part to the complete lack of stability at the quarterback spot.

Why does this happen? Why can a two-quarterback system drag a team down?

1. Ego and confidence. If a quarterback gets recruited by a team like Michigan or BYU, they have been "the man" for their high school team for three or more years. They have dominated their teenage opponents and been the clearcut leader of their team for a long time. Bring them into a situation where that's not the case, and they can feel slighted or crushed at the lack of trust the coaching staff shows in them. For a lot of these kids, football is everything, and if they start to feel like they aren't good enough to play the game they love at this higher level, they can start a death spiral of pity or anger. It's hard to win football games when one or both of your quarterbacks feel this way.

2. Lack of preparation. Neither quarterback gets the practice reps they need to be truly ready for games. There is only so much practice time available during the week, and a freshman quarterback like Heaps needs all the snaps he can get if he's going to be effective against the Washingtons and Air Forces of the world. In the two-quarterback scenario, he's splitting time with Nelson, probably close to 50/50, and his preparedness level is effectively cut in half. The same goes for Nelson, though it can be argued he doesn't need as much practice to be ready for gameday, thanks to his prior experience in the program.

3. Offensive confusion. The offense has to prepare two types of play every week. The offensive linemen have to work on protecting a pocket passer like Heaps and covering a scrambling Nelson. Wide receivers have to block more when Nelson is in, versus running their routes if Heaps is throwing the ball. Similar to problem number two, this leads to players not being quite ready when Saturday comes around.

Now, the nice thing about BYU's situation is that I believe both Heaps and Nelson are mature and level-headed individuals with lives and goals outside of football. I don't think either of them will enter into a death spiral anytime soon, though as the season wears on, one or both of them might.

ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson actually quoted both players on this subject in a post today.
"I know this will give us an opportunity to have a highly successful season," Nelson said in the statement. "Jake and I both have the ability to lead our team and offer unique skills that will help us be successful as an offensive unit. I am excited about this opportunity and fully expect that we will carry on the great tradition and legacy of the quarterback position here at BYU."

And from Heaps:
"I am 100 percent behind this decision. I feel the coaches have made the right decision for both Riley and I and this football team. Riley is a great player and I'm excited to have the opportunity to contribute. This isn't about me or him; it's about us -- it's about doing what we can to help our team."

Very impressive attitude from both of these players, but again, it's early.

I'm excited that BYU has a definite strategy in place for the 2010 season, and I think it could be a lot of fun to watch. That said, I am wary of potential problems that may arise, and will keep a close eye on these areas as the season progresses.

26 August 2010

Jazz Jackrabbit

This game is possibly the best shareware title for PC in the 1990's. Jazz Jackrabbit gave you fantastic music, great graphics and it was all around super fun to play. The game embodies the spirit of my gaming experience as a teenager; as I never had a console gaming system growing up, I mostly obtained free shareware titles and played them until my fingers bled (or my parents yelled at me to get off the computer).

Jazz Jackrabbit was released in 1994 by Epic MegaGames, one of many classics these guys created around the same time. I also played a lot of Jill of the Jungle, Epic Pinball, and Xargon, all from Epic. Today, the company is better known for games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Gears of War.

It's hard to explain just how fun it was to run around as a green rabbit with a bird for a pet, blowing up turtles. Today's games have much, much better graphics and more involved gameplay, yet for some reason they can't duplicate the feeling of these earlier PC titles.

Just part of getting older, I guess.

23 August 2010

Bronco and The Great Quarterback Controversy of 2010

To begin with, I'd like to say that I love Bronco Mendenhall. His overall performance as BYU's head coach has been borderline spectacular, and to take the team from where it was in 2004 to where it is today has been great to see as a fan.

That said, he needs to pick a starting quarterback already.

For those of you who live in a hole (or don't care about BYU football), the story of the Cougar offseason has been "Who will start at quarterback in 2010?" Here is a quick rundown of the contenders, in alphabetical order.

Jake Heaps: True freshman, very, very highly recruited coming out of Skyline high school in Washington state. Has a great long ball.

James Lark: Came from Pine View high school in Utah, was named the 3A MVP his senior year. Redshirted the 2006 season and served a mission in Russia. I've never seen him play.

Jason Munns: Recorded a pass efficiency rating of 140.8 his senior year at Southridge high school in Washington state. Stands at 6' 5" and redshirted in 2007 before serving a mission in Mexico from 2008-2010.

Riley Nelson: Started eight games at Utah State as a freshman, completing 55 percent of his passes for 925 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 290 yards. Mobile.

All four of these guys tore it up in high school and have the ability to start for an FBS program. The problem is, at most, two guys can get significant playing time, and most schools would rather have one guy get the majority of the snaps.

So as unfair as it may be, the race is between Heaps and Nelson for the starting job. That's how it was during spring practices, and that's how it is now, during fall practices.

Now, I feel that Heaps should start, if just because he has more eligibility left than Nelson and has a higher ceiling. Add these reasons to the fact that Bronco steadfastly continues to comment that both players are playing equally well, and you have a junior quarterback who can't clearly beat out a true freshman. Let's just make it Heaps and be done with it.
With the season opener against Washington a little less than two weeks away, coach Bronco Mendenhall said the quarterback race is "dead even." He added that a starting QB probably won't be named until game week.
Is this true? Does Bronco really believe both quarterbacks would do equally well starting for BYU? Or has he chosen one of them and decided not to announce this publicly, the better to make sure everyone involved keeps working hard?

Either way, I'd like to see a decision made public by the end of the week. Since the play styles of Nelson and Heaps differ so greatly, the offense needs to know how they will be playing against Washington, or the game will be a scrimmage for BYU, where they try to learn on the fly.

On the other hand, if Bronco is keeping his decision a secret in order to throw off Washington's attempts to prepare for the Cougars, then kudos to him.

And on the other other hand, maybe he's planning on giving both quarterbacks extensive playing time, like Utah did last season or Florida did with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow a few years ago. While I'm not a fan of this method, it can work, and if Bronco wants to give it a shot, I trust him enough to not complain too much.

The more I think about this, the more I think I'm not really bothered by not knowing who will start in a couple weeks as long as Bronco knows what he's doing. It adds to the suspense and anticipation I have for college football in general, which makes everything a lot more fun. Only 12 more days to go!

Pool basketball is awesome

Who doesn't love pool basketball? I found this video posted on Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie blog, and holy cow do I want to do this, despite the very real risk of breaking my neck.

Summer is awesome. Isn't summer awesome? Last night the wife and I spent a few minutes reminding ourselves what the coming Idaho winter will be like, and it made us sad. But then we remembered that it isn't winter yet! It's August! And I can still do stuff like jump off my deck into my pool with my buddies! If I had a pool!

18 August 2010

Wednesday thoughts

1. I forgot to mention that as part of the Internet-TV-is-the-only-TV plan, I downloaded a free app from the Android marketplace called myRemote that allows me to control my computer from my phone over wifi. I generally use it to control the mouse for Netflix or Hulu videos, and it works really well. Easy to set up, and did I mention it's free?

2. The wife sent me this chat a earlier this morning: "OK, we are getting a flat panel tv and installing it high on the wall ASAP." There was a bit of an incident where the toddler almost pulled our 19-inch tube TV on top of himself, but an epic roll kept him from being harmed. May be researching HDTV's here in a couple weeks. Recent trips to Walmart have informed me prices keep falling, which is nice.

3. There are severe rumblings that BYU is planning to go independent, like Notre Dame. Andy Katz over on ESPN.com posted a big article on it earlier.
BYU is moving closer to leaving the Mountain West Conference, becoming a football independent and re-joining the Western Athletic Conference in all other sports by a Sept. 1 deadline to withdraw from the MWC for the 2011 season, multiple sources said Wednesday.

"I'm not sure how it could stop now unless BYU gets nervous," said one source with knowledge of the situation.

The Cougars have been exploring the possibility since in-state rival Utah left the Mountain West for the Pac-10 earlier this summer.
Well. I'm not sure how to feel about this, and a lot depends on how the details shake out. This article also says BYU will be playing four to six WAC teams per season as part of the deal, which is extremely underwhelming. I thought playing SDSU and UNLV every year was bad... to downgrade to Idaho and San Jose State would just be depressing.

However, independence also means BYU would keep all the money it gets from bowl games, and might allow for a TV deal involving a new BYU sports TV station.

Reports are there will be a press conference tomorrow, where a lot of details will be revealed.

More then.

17 August 2010

So far, so good

Last night I installed the new video card. This took way longer than it should have, as the people who design cases for Compaq are morons.

Then, after putting everything back together, I installed the drivers and whatever so the new card would work. That was pretty easy. I then ran the S-video cable from the desktop to the computer, and nothing happened. I fiddled around with the settings on my new video card (which, again, is new, and therefore entirely unfamiliar to me) and after about 20 minutes, got the image on my computer screen to show on the TV screen, as well. Hooray!

Tested it by watching a few minutes of Burn Notice on Hulu, and it looks fine. Not great, but fine. Today I signed up for a 2-week trial of Netflix (technically our second free trial in about three years) and since we have a Wii, we will be able to stream some high-quality stuff that way.

I've been searching for ways to watch college football and NBA games on the internetz for free. I have had some success, but I'm open to suggestions if anyone has experience in this area.

Tonight we may actually cancel the cable, though now that I think about it, we're not caught up on our shows that are on the DVR, and that may take a few days.

16 August 2010

Making the leap

It's time.
Mandi and I are going 100% internet television. Assuming this works, we're canceling the cable and using our desktop computer to stream our shows to our 19-inch tube television (great wedding gift; thanks, Julie, Brooke, Eric, Amy, and everyone else I'm forgetting!)

I bought this card off Amazon, as it comes with a 7-pin S-Video output port (and it can also run some of my games a bit better than the stock card that came with the desktop).

And then I bought this cable to connect from the card to the TV. While the TV has an S-Video port, I figured going RCA on that end should be fine.
With the great improvement in internet TV, from Hulu to ABC.com, I think this can work. Sports obviously will be a problem, but for BYU and Jazz games I can go to my in-laws' across town.
I'll be setting it up tonight, and will post updates.
Wish us luck.

05 August 2010

Historical photography

The above photo was created by an alice at www.mymodernmet.com. For the project, she apparently took photos of modern-day sites in Europe and Russia and then inserted photos from World War II to match up. I find the pictures absolutely astounding, and they have really helped me grasp the realities of WWII in a way I hadn't before. See more here.

The above photo is part of a collection owned by the Library of Congress and posted on The Denver Post's website. They are some of the only color photos taken during the Great Depression, and like the WWII images, these help me connect to a time in history I felt far removed from. Something about seeing people in real color, as opposed to black and white or pictures colored after the fact, makes them a lot more real.

I love History, and even minored in it in college. I am enthralled by any information about pretty much any era in any part of the world, and while I know many people don't share that same enthusiasm, I think it's important that everyone have the context of knowing where we came from and what humans have done in the past. We can learn a lot this way.