Bowl Playoffs 2013

The lesser bowls have come and gone, and with New Years upon us, it’s time to revisit our annual notional 16-team Bowl Playoff Championship for college football.  Although we will soon see a limited four-team playoff, this FCS-style tourney is still a decade or two away.  Check the bracket…


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Here’s how it works:

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Christmastime = Finals

Watching the wifely whirlwind this time of year always imbues a certain sense of awe.  The cards, the cookies, the school parties, the calendars…   Gift planning and dispersal.  Meal prep.  Recording the Christmas specials on TV.  Thematic coordination of wrapping paper.

Mostly with a smile.  Mostly with chin up and a sense of yuletide determination.  The late nights, the sleep deprivation, striving towards the 25th, when the kids tear through the wrapping paper and we feast mid-winters and yes, she can once again sleep an entire night.

Like final exams for moms.  And, just like finals, she’s better at it than I am.  The execution requiring more patience, better planning, and stubborn stamina.  Sometimes I would ace a final, but more often than not I found myself feeling ill-prepared and wondering how much it would hurt my grade.  Not so with the better half.

Sure, I can hang the lights outside, carry in the tree, provide the occasional assist.  But Christmastime is the mom’s time to shine.  So raise your glasses.  Help with the clean-up.  Let her sleep in and maybe indulge  that extra glass of wine on New Year’s Eve.  She’s earned it.

Worth Braggin’

You can look at the box scores, you can read the game summary.  It ends up as a very important win for the Fighting Illini.  The annual Braggin’ Rights border battle against Missouri in St. Louis rarely fails to live up to the hype.  We watched as a family, with me trying to control myself and explain things to the kids.  The wife worked on stuff on her laptop and sent several arch looks my way when I started talking to the refs and the TV.  There was yelling and jumping at the end, when Ray nearly stole it and forced a bad three at the buzzer.  Now the holidays can begin as they should:  with Mizzou defeated and that border trophy on its way back to Champaign.

Yes, this was an important win for Illinois.  That signature non-conference victory that could be very big come March.  Beating a ranked team, and pulling it out at the end with a strong finish.  A confidence-builder, a toughness  win.

The toughness factor is what we’ll hang our hat on.  Tracy Abrams led the way there, driving, drawing fouls, and finishing.  And those two made free throws with four seconds left…  Ray Rice made plays to keep us in the game even if this wasn’t his best offensive night.  Jon Ekey with the clutch three.  Bertrand and Egwu and  the freshmen chipping in at key points.  Statistically it was very even, but the Illini seemed to get all the loose balls and tough rebounds the last eight minutes or so.  That will win you close games.

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GoM: Silver Linings

So it’s the Group of Megadeath for Jurgen, Landon, Clint, and Tim.  Every Euro pundit and more than a few Americans have dismissed the US’s chances of advancing out of hand.  There was much moaning to be heard, especially when you look at some of the other groups we could have drawn – particularly Mexico’s spot in Group A (with Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon), or Honduras’ spot in Group E (with Switzerland, France, and Ecuador), or Group H, aka the Group of Life (USA could have drawn with Belgium, Algeria, and Russia).

But, if you listened to players interviewed, like Tim, Clint, and Jozy Altidore, you didn’t hear any whining.  You didn’t get a sense of intimidation.  It was more a sense of shrugging the shoulders and digging in for battle.  More than a few folks reacted like this.

In Beemsville, our initial reaction was it could have been worse.  Second reaction was:  Ghana – we have something for your punk ass…  Most will recall that Ghana put us out of the last two World Cups.  And it just so happens we open with Ghana.  That first game is so, so vital – the one for which you schemed and plan and prepare for months.  Silver lining here is playing your most beatable opponent first.  Teams that get three points from their first win are always more likely to advance.  Ghana’s defense is questionable, and Juregen’s team has shown more propensity for scoring over the last year.  If you have to open with someone from the GoM, let it be Ghana. Continue reading

Movies: Hobbit – DoS

…written by Fan Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro; directed by Peter Jackson; starring Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage.

Hobbit Day is big in Beemsville.  It’s family movie day.  Looking forward to the next chapter since last year, excited from the previews and the kids’ shared experience reading the book – anticipation?  Yes.  We’re big fans of the Peter Jackson versions of the Tolkien world, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is no exception.

The core cast from last year’s first chapter returns, along with similar strengths and weaknesses.  You get your next dose of Middle Earth-Jackson-style, which also means you get Jackson-style pacing and excess.  The decision to draw three separate films out of Tolkien’s book (and notes from other books) will again rouse complaints.  It makes for uneven bursts of cinematic storytelling and, well Peter Jackson’s penchant for excessive scenes.

What do we mean by excessive?  It’s a handful of action sequences and fight scenes that go on too long.  It’s another chase and escape by the dwarves that while fun, becomes a little ridiculous.  It’s the absolute mountain of treasure in the Lonely Mountain that beggars the description from the book and leaves you thinking about deflation and the Middle Earth economic system.  This adds up to a two-hour-and-forty minute movie that could have comfortably arrived at just over two hours.

Don’t get me wrong – we thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  It’s great entertainment and a level or two above the mean for big budget movies.  In fact the Peter Jackson excess serves to draw more light to the small scenes, the thoughtful scenes, that have made these movies so grand.  These include a scene at the end of the battle with the spiders, when Bilbo loses the ring for a split second;  a brief exchange in which Bilbo almost tells Gandalf about the ring and how he escaped from the goblin tunnels; the healing scene in which Tauriel rescues Kili.

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Group of Megadeath

If you examined the way FIFA organized the World Cup Draw, you knew this was a strong possibility.  The draw for the 32 team field occurred yesterday and the US Soccer team are in the group of Megadeath.  Why?  Because FIFA doesn’t respect or value teams from North and Central America, Asia, and Africa…  Because FIFA always seems to clear a path deep into the tournament for the host nation (as if Brazil needs favors on home soil)…  Because FIFA needs to modernize its tourney setup.

So we land in Group G:

That, folks, is one of the toughest groups ever.  You have Germany, arguably the best team in Europe, who qualified nearly flawlessly.  You have Ghana, the one of the top qualifiers from Africa and arguable the best team from that region.  Portugal nearly did not qualify, but they have one of the world’s best players and loads of talent.  And there’s Team America, who topped CONCACAF qualification and are the best team from the region.

If you go by FIFA’s admittedly flawed world rankings, you have Germany #2, Portugal #5, USA #14, and Ghana #24.  Other groups are top heavy (Spain and Holland in  B; Italy and Uruguay in Group D), but none is tougher than G.  Meanwhile, Argentina and hosts Brazil received remarkably easy and favorable groups…  Almost as if FIFA wants the South Americans to advance.

At any rate, if you seeded the teams from 1 to 32, NCAA tournament style, you would never come up with something like this.  In that scenario the USA would still match up with Germany, but the other two teams would be Bosnia and Cameroon.  Yeah, we’d definitely favor that scenario.  Now FIFA’s not likely to every go to something like straight seeding, but at least they could organize the four drawing pots by seed in ranking.  In that scenario the USA would have been in Pot B, as the equivalent of a #2 seed (along with Portugal) instead of Pot D, which was essentially a #4 seed.  Yes, we really got hosed yesterday.



Pension Reform?

A funny thing happened in Springfield yesterday:  the state legislature actually did something.  They passed a bill to cut benefits from Illinois’ ridiculously underfunded pension system.  Political leaders like Governor Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan will point to $130 billion in savings over the next 30 years and move on to their re-election campaigns for 2014.  Predictably, those dependent on the pensions are angry.  We had a contract, they say.  It’s unconstitutional, they say.  See you in court, they warn.  And, of course, that’s the next step.

To us it looks like Illinois is finally accepting it’s lot as a state declaring bankruptcy.  Unfunded pension liability has been dragging the state down for decades.  Meanwhile, the court systems continue to opine against the ‘too big to fail’ mentality for state and local government.  Look at what happened in Michigan yesterday: a bankruptcy court refused to lump local municipal pension failures on the state government.  So what do you do if it’s the next level of government taken to court with no funds?  Appeal to the President?

We note with interest (as has everyone else) that the current plan leaves the pensions of the state judges alone (to avoid conflict of interest, wink-wink, said Madigan).  Right.

This won’t truly be resolved anytime soon, and today there are a lot of state and local government workers and retirees who are feeling uneasy.  As well they should.  Their financial futures are (and have been) in the hands of a pretty bad lot of politicians within one of the worst government set-ups in the country.  We sympathize, but the money’s just not there.