Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Look At The Orange Bowl

It wasn't the tangy bite of citrus fruit left in the collective mouth of the Virginia Tech football team last January in Miami, it was the bitter taste of defeat.

When the Hokies lost to Kansas 24-21 in last year's Orange Bowl, a game they were expected to win, many were left questioning the coaching staff and the way Tech approaches bowl games.

Sure the Hokies have made it to 16 consecutive bowl games, but they've lost 4 of their last 5 postseason clashes leading to a rethinking of bowl preparation.

“Our bowl-prep was more like August camp,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “It was colder than August, but the approach was the same.”

New wrinkles included practices during exam week and a full speed scrimmage the weekend before Christmas.

Even ACC commissioner John Swofford told the Hokies what they needed to do following their victory in the ACC Championship, "Go to win."

So how do the Hokies do that?

There's no question that the strength of this team is the defense. Macho Harris will look to have a big day in his final game donning the Chicago maroon and burnt orange. Harris and fellow corner Stephan Virgil should expect a busy evening given Cincinnati's open passing attack. Harris will also see action returning punts and as a receiver on offense. There's no doubt he'll leave everything he has on the field in his final game for the Techmen.

The defense will have a new face among the starters. Barquell Rivers will make his first career start for the Hokies in place of injured linebacker Brett Warren.

“He hasn’t gotten a lot of reps but he knows how to play middle linebacker, make no mistake,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said of Rivers. “He’s a guy who has waited his turn and this is his time.”

The defense needs to score and keep quarterback Tony Pike and the 'Nati offense in check. On the other side, the Bearcats will look to their best defensive back Mike Mickens who is returning from an injury to lead the way in defending a Hokie offense that still isn't very good, but has improved in the final weeks of the season.

Tech will also be without a starter on the much-maligned offensive line. Nick Marshman was ruled academically ineligible, so redshirt freshman Jaymes Brooks will start at right guard. Keep an eye on big number 68 early in this one.

Cincinnati has several big-play receivers. Mardy Gilyard leads all Bearcat receivers with over 1,100 yards and Dominick Goodman returns from a shoulder injury to line up on the other side just 23 yards shy of 1,000. If the 'Nati expects to win, they must move the ball effectively through the air as the Tech defense has been dominant against the run.


This game is important for Virginia Tech and it's perhaps even more important to the ACC. The Atlantic Coast Conference is just 1-9 in BCS bowls, the lone victory coming when Florida State defeated then Big East member Virginia Tech in the 2000 National Championship game.

Tech looks to change that against the Big East Champion Bearcats. If the Hokie offense can manage to move the football and put some points on the board to supplant the defense's efforts.

An interesting note, the last time Virginia Tech was shutout by an opponent was in 1995 when Cincinnati shut the Hokies out 16-0 in a rain-soaked match up in Lane Stadium. Tech went on to win their next ten games that season including an upset win over the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl. Tech has also scored in 175 consecutive games since then.

This one will be close, I have little doubt of that. Look for a repeat of last season's Orange Bowl, but with a twist.

Virginia Tech 24
Cincinnati 21

Virginia Tech and Cincinnati square off New Year's Day at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mele Kalikimaka

Well, I stand seriously corrected. I thought that Notre Dame would continue their streak of bowl futility last night against the essentially home-standing Hawaii Warriors in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

Notre Dame (7-6) exploded for a resounding 49-21 victory that really wasn't as close as the score indicates. Yeah, it was that bad.

Apparently the Warrior squad I saw nearly beat Cincinnati in their regular season finale is actually the worst team in a bowl game...ever.

At least last year when Hawaii (7-7) got pummeled in the Sugar Bowl it was by a Georgia squad that was clearly superior. This time around, they made a Notre Dame team that backed into a bowl game losing 4 of their last 5 games look like the Tennessee Titans.

The Fighting Irish deserve a great deal of credit too of course. Hawaii may have played their worst game of the season, but it came on a night when the Irish played their best.

Jimmy Clausen, who had an average season, played brilliantly, completing 22 of 26 passes for 401 yards and 5 touchdowns (both Irish bowl records).

Clausen exhibited his tremendous arm strength on deep balls floated perfectly into his receivers' arms. He zipped rockets across the middle, and most importantly didn't turn the ball over, something that has been a big problem for him this season.

Golden Tate put the finishing touches on a great personal season, catching 6 passes for 177 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead the Irish receivers.

Perhaps the only negative for Notre Dame was that they only managed 65 yards rushing, but when you can pass like that who needs to run the ball?

Overall, the Irish can be quite proud of the effort turned in during the season finale and for the first time since 1994, they will head into the off-season brimming with confidence and excited about the prospects that lay ahead.

Also, on behalf of Stars & Slights, we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Leaving Bowl Streak On The Mainland?

In case you hadn't heard - and ESPN has made sure everyone and their mom's are informed - Notre Dame has lost its last 9 consecutive bowl appearances. 

Tonight, at 8 EST on ESPN the Fighting Irish take on the Hawaii Warriors in the Sheraton Hotels Hawaii Bowl and hope to end their skid.

Much has been said up to this point whether or not the Irish should be playing in this bowl but the day has come and its time to see what the men in blue and gold are made of.

Go Irish. Beat Warriors! (and please, please end the bowl streak).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Song Of The Day

This one comes courtesy of our good friend Matt Smith. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. The artist is Jake Shimabukuro. I would say he's arguably the best ukulele player in the world, but I see no one to challenge him so there isn't much of an argument. This is his song called "Let's Dance" I only wish he had backing instruments.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hokies Take Bite Out Of Big Apple

Photo Credit/AP Photo Steve Helber

For the second year in a row Virginia Tech won the Aeropostale Holiday Festival by defeating St. John's 81-67 Sunday in Madison Square Garden.

For the second game in a row, Tech's Malcolm Delaney played the entire 40 minutes scoring 22 points to go along with 8 assists en route to earning tournament MVP honors.

Last year's MVP, A.D. Vassallo also went the distance in this one and had another fine day adding 24 points and 8 rebounds.

Jeff Allen
had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds despite playing just 24 minutes due to foul trouble. While Allen still has a penchant for making some silly fouls, he also has been the victim of some horrible calls including one today when two St. John's players fell over and he got whistled despite not touching them.

One could surmise that some of the tough calls going against Allen are retribution for his "bumping" an official last season. Food for thought at the very least.

Virginia Tech (8-4) will now have a week off before traveling to Charleston Southern (5-5) for their final preparation for conference play. Tech kicks off it's ACC slate Sunday, January 4 at Duke.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

NCAA Athletics: Taking The Student Out Of Student Athletes Since 1906

Gotta hand it to the NCAA. They are incredibly tough on their criteria for student athlete eligibility:
According to Beamer, Marshman has already graduated but was taking six credit hours as required by the NCAA and failed to pass.
Way to really challenge student athletes, NCAA officials! Six credits? Hmm what to choose: underwater basket weaving or ballroom dancing? 

Yes, the aforementioned Beamer is Frank, head football coach for Virginia Tech. That excerpt was from this article, which reported that the Hokies may be without three players for their bout against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the FedEx Orange Bowl on New Year's Day. Left guard Nick Marshman (academically ineligible), defensive end Jason Worlids (shoulder injury), and linebacker Brett Warren (torn ACL) will all likely miss the game against Cincy.

Coming from a school that requires all student athletes - football players included - to take at least 12 credits to be eligible, this is truly appalling news. It's like they want to set students to stay longer than 4 years. But why would they want to keep athletes on scholarship for an extra year given the economic implications?

I know many student athletes take summer courses as well, but I cannot understand how they don't finish in 4 years.

For the record, I don't think there is anything wrong with not finishing in 4 years. However, when given the opportunity to take summer courses to offset the course load during season one would expect these so-called student athletes to finish on schedule.

At Notre Dame, football players who apply for a fifth year must first apply and gain admission to one of Notre Dame's graduate programs. All players must finish their undergraduate schooling in 4 years. Moreover, they must also take at least 12 credits while in season.

If the NCAA were really serious about emphasizing the former portion of "student athlete" rather than the latter they might want to take a look at the requirements and standards ND, the Ivies, and many other schools hold their student athletes accountable to.

You have probably seen those commercials promoted by the NCAA with the tag line, "There are over 380,000 NCAA student athletes, and most of us will go pro in something other than sports."  I couldn't agree more with that statement, but it's an absolute joke considering the minimal requirements "enforced" by the NCAA.

Requiring a meager six credits is a disgrace and seems like quite the contradiction based on the above commercial series and NCAA student athletes tag line, doesn't it? The really sad part: some athletes have gotten away with taking less than that minimum...

If you recall, former USC quarterback Matt Leinart apparently took just one course, Ballroom Dancing, during his fifth year at the University of Southern California. Leinart clearly was not concerned about school at all.
A sociology major, Leinart needs two credits to graduate as he begins his fifth year at USC.

"School's done for me -- I'm here to concentrate on football," he said.

Leinart will complete his schooling by taking a class in ballroom dancing with Cameron, a sophomore from Thousand Oaks who plays on USC's women's basketball team.

"We both kind of figured, 'Let's take that.' We'll practice our tango or whatever the heck they do -- the 1-2 step," Leinart said, smiling.
Something is not right in paradise. I highly doubt that Ballroom Dancing at USC is worth six credits, let alone three. A quick academic search on their website revealed that Ballroom Dancing is listed as a club sport.

I wonder what Leinart filled out on his USC admissions application?

The moral of the story? Any attempt by the NCAA purporting its emphasis on student athletes is comical at worst and depressing at best. 

The NCAA should increase its academic requirements for its athletes, else those "going pro in something other than sports" commercials are nothing than a facade.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dillon Hall Carol Of The Bells

As a former resident of Notre Dame's finest dorm on campus I must say, as humbly as possible, that Dillon Hall is clearly a step above the rest and should be a "no contest" winner for male dorm of the year. This is probably the coolest thing done within the confines of a dorm - possibly ever. Here is the poster's comments about the video:
My friend and I at Notre Dame set up some lights in our dorm hallway and choreographed them to "Carol of the Bells" played by Gary Hoey. Merry Christmas!
I'm guessing these guys are electrical engineers. Or just really smart. Or both. 

Nice work gentlemen. Go Big Red!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Song Of The Day

This is an outrageous a cappella tribute to the music Of John Williams. The subject matter is Star Wars related. Thoroughly enjoyable/useless like a good viral video should be.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Song Of The Day

This song has been featured before, but this is a fresh live performance that is quite outrageous. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations On a Shaker Hymn)" was performed live on Spike last night during their video game awards show by Weezer.

The vocals are great by all the band members (though I think the women's choir is a bit stiff throughout). Rivers Cuomo's strange cavorting about the stage is both crazed and inspired.

Gotta love the barefoot, white-suit wearing Cuomo, even if he isn't playing guitar.

The bald guy playing guitar in Rivers' place is Dave Kushner from Velvet Revolver. He and Weezer bassist Scott Shriner are apparently old friends.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

ND’s Bowl Trip No Strike, But Spare Will Suffice

If you are a member of Notre Dame Nation (alums and subway alums alike) you probably have a distinct opinion on Notre Dame’s acceptance to play in a bowl game with a 6-6 overall record.

Moreover, aside from the mere acceptance of the bowl bid it is probably safe to say you have an even more distinct opinion on the actual bowl game itself.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, Notre Dame accepted a bid this past Sunday to play in the Sheraton Hotels Hawaii bowl on Christmas Eve at 8pm EST. This marks the third bowl game that Charlie Weis has lead the Irish to after Tyrone Willingham led the Irish to two such games prior to Weis’ tenure (though he only coached one of them as Kent Baer served as interim Head Coach in the 2004 Insight Bowl).

Bowl games are generally exciting attractions for universities as they provide additional practice time/experience for the upcoming season and instant cash flow for the sake of merely showing up to play.

Moreover, they provide adoring fans yet another opportunity to see their teams play whether it be live and in person or on TV.

So, I beg the question, what is all the fuss about? If you read any fan forum or message board you would think the sky is falling and the program had lost all of its games this year.

Aside from even accepting the bid, people are complaining about ND choosing to play on Christmas Eve (what some ignorant people are calling the holiest day of the year even though Easter Sunday actually holds that title). They claim that more viable options existed, such as the Texas bowl on December 30, 2008.  They say ND should only accept more lucrative bids, such as BCS Bowls, Cotton Bowls, or Gator Bowls.

Perhaps the most shocking thing to me is that people are complaining about IMPROVEMENT. Sure, ND blew a number of games late in the year and lost to a hapless Syracuse team. But facts are facts: ND was 3-9 in 2007 without a bowl bid and are now 6-6 with a bowl game in the near future.

Consider where the program was last year and ask yourself this question: Can I honestly say that I expected ND to be in the national title game this year?

If you truthfully answered “yes” then I suggest you submit yourself to a psychiatric evaluation.

It simply is not logical (nor probable) to believe that ND would have transformed from 3-9 to 12-0, 11-1, or even 10-2. Heck, even 9-3 would have been a stretch, although it might have happened had the Irish closed out games against UNC, Pitt, and Syracuse.

ND has played with at least 12 underclassmen starters this season. At least 26 underclassmen have received playing time this season. (For an more in depth look at ND's youth, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of "The Youth Manifesto" by the fine gents over at Her Loyal Sons).

This young and talented team simply has not learned how to finish games yet. Say all you want about coaches motivating players, but the onus also falls on the players to execute and want to close out games in strong fashion rather than let their opponents creep back in.

Save for Ohio State’s heralded 1968 sophomore-led National Champions (10-0) there has not been as young as a team as the Irish that produced such amazing results (and OSU was 6-3 the year before).

I just finished reading a great book by Dr. Kenneth Blanchard  and Dr. Spencer Johnson called “The One Minute Manager” that is incredibly reflective of my outlook on this situation.

One of the sections in the book uses an analogy about teaching whales to jump over high ropes at aquatic shows. Trainers don’t go out to the ocean, hold a rope high over the water and wait for a whales to jump over it for show selection.

Whales aren’t born trained to jump over ropes held out of the water, let alone to swim over ones in the ocean. They must be trained to do so. Any expectation otherwise is wishful delusional thinking.

The same line of thinking can be applied to the state of Notre Dame football. The 2008 team has not yet been fully trained to jump over the proverbial rope, yet so many people illogically expect it and demand it.

I admire the passion, devotion and faith to one’s loyalties. I too want to see ND win national titles every year, let alone be in title contention. But I know that with the parity in sports today that that kind of thinking is improbable.

I love Notre Dame unconditionally, but that does not mean I simply sit back and blindly follow administration moves, faculty hiring/firing practices, development plans, or gameday operations.

However, that unconditional love does mean I can see the larger picture that ND is more than just football. If you think otherwise then you are sadly mistaken.

Notre Dame graduates – undergrad and graduate students alike – have gone on to become some of the world’s finest doctors, lawyers, mathematicians, businessmen and businesswomen, teachers, and priests.

Yet they haven't done so because of the success of the football team. They have done so because of their hard work, commitment, and determination to best the best. They embody what it means to "Play Like A Champion Today."

Family. Strength. Courage. Discipline. Sacrifice. Respect. Humility. Faith. Ethics. Service. Love. 

Those are all values that were either learned or reinforced during my time at Notre Dame. Our Lady's University provided the foundation for individuals who are fighting to make a positive impact on the lives of many.

I am proud to be a graduate of the University of Notre Dame because of the values it represents and holds itself accountable to, not because of its football team. 

National championships and Heisman trophies are great achievements by the University, but they should not be overlooked by the greater good facilitated by its graduates, faculty, and representatives.

As Lou Holtz once said, “People don’t come to Notre Dame to learn how to do something. They come to Notre Dame to learn how to be somebody.”

If you don’t believe so you are nobody.

Hokie Lacrosse In Crisis

A story published in the Collegiate Times this week gave us just a glimpse into the disfunctional lacrosse program residing in Blacksburg. The story has made some noise in the lacrosse community, and rightfully so. It certainly makes for an interesting read.

It reflects rather poorly on the Virginia Tech athletic department that there was no comment from anyone in the chain of command. Hopefully the current uproar will prove that they can't ignore the lacrosse program.

Kudos to author Thomas Emerick (a former scribe at Planet Blacksburg) who gave this aspect of the story a very fair slant. Clearly something is rotten in Denmark.

Be sure to read some of the comments at the bottom of the article, it's sparked quite a bit of debate.

A Vanishing Act

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Drum Hero

Have you ever played Guitar Hero 3? Did you play Through the Fire and Flames? Every try to beat it on Expert and succeed?

Today's song of the day features a man who not only can answer yes to all of those questions but can also claim he did so by playing it on a homemade midi drum kit. 

"Through the Fire and Flames" is easily the most difficult song in the Guitar Hero series. British power-metal band DragonForce, who were recently nominated for a Grammy in Best Metal Performance for "Hero of Our Time," formed in 1999 and have since been known for fast guitar solos.

Inhuman Rampage, the album containing today's song, was the third installment of studio albums by this group of rockin Brits. On August 20, 2008, they released their fourth album called Ultra Beatdown, from which "Hero of Our Time" was the first single. 

Rumor has it that, although their music sounds incredibly polished on their studio albums, they cannot necessarily play all of the notes they're supposed to.

Regardless, these guys can flat out shred. 

Ready. Set. Rock.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

ACC Champions

Congratulations goes out to the ACC Champion Virginia Tech Hokies who defended their title in style, beating Boston College 30-12.

I'll post a detailed wrap-up tomorrow. Meanwhile it's time to do a little scouting of the Hokies opponent in the Orange Bowl, the Cincinnati Bearcats as they battle Hawaii on ESPN2.

Championship Fever

As exciting and intriguing the matchup featuring Virginia Tech against Boston College is today, I sure do hope there are more fans in the stands than last year's title game:

Other games of note today include the SEC championship featuring Alabama vs Florida, the BIG XII Championship featuring Oklahoma vs Missouri, Army vs Navy, and USC vs UCLA. And that's just football.

Notre Dame takes on Ohio State in the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase at 4pm on ESPNU in the beautiful new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Wisconsin battles Marquette and Duke takes on Michigan in a rematch of the 2k Sports Classic championship game at Madison Square Garden earlier this year (won by Duke).

So sit down, relax, and enjoy a relaxing Saturday afternoon with the great collegiate athletics at your disposal.

Friday, December 5, 2008

ACC Championship Game Preview

Saturday at 1 pm Virginia Tech will look to defend it's ACC title against the same team they defeated for it last season, the Boston College Eagles.

I have only a few quick comments to make on this game.

First, the Hokies (8-4, 9-3) hold the advantage based on history. Last season of course Matt Ryan and the miracle Eagles rallied to break the collective hearts of Hokie Nation, winning on a last minute touchdown, 14-10 in Lane Stadium. The Hokies later rebounded and met the Eagles in the ACC Championship, redeeming themselves with a victory.

Virginia Tech's defense is playing as well as anyone's, ranking first in the ACC in total D. # 17 Boston College (9-3, 5-3) has the second best defense in the ACC however, and they really handled the Tech offense in their win in Chestnut Hill earlier this season.

The big key for Tech will be can they run the ball against the impressive Eagles defensive line. If Darren Evans and Tyrod Taylor can move the ball on the ground, Tech should be able to pull this one out.

Look for an ugly hard-hitting brawl today in Tampa.


Virginia Tech 21
Boston College 17

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Song Of The Day

Today we feature one of the best songs from Weezer's catalog, "Only In Dreams", the final track from their eponymous debut album. This video is a rehearsal from back in 1994. It really encapsulates that raw garage vibe of early Weezer.

For a far more detailed look, check out Soymilk's most recent post on his songblog here.


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