Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ben Folds Five Releases First New Album in 13 Years

Ben Folds has had a successful solo career following the late 90s popularity of his band Ben Folds Five.

They split amicably in 2000 and after a one-off show eight years later and re-recording some songs for Ben's career retrospective The Best Imitation of Myself, finally decided to reunite formally to record a new album.

The result is The Sound of the Life of the Mind out for release September 18.   

After an unsuccessful excursion down the hill to Wal-Mart (gross), I found myself without a physical copy of the album—though several tracks were being streamed by the band in the preceding weeks through various websites.

It's awesome to hear Ben once again playing with drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge—who for my money is one of the most entertaining bassists alive.

Here's the outstanding video for a track that I've had in heavy rotation for a while now, "Do It Anyway".

If you don't like Fraggle Rock or good music, you won't enjoy it. But if either of those are the case...what are you doing here?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hokies Smashed by Pittsburgh, But Not "Upset"

Virginia Tech was absolutely dominated by the Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday, a team that entered the game with an 0-2 record that included a loss to Youngstown State of the FCS.

To say the No. 13 Hokies were upset would be incorrect. That implies that the result is unexpected or even unprecedented, neither of which is true.

Losing football games to "inferior" opponents has become an unnervingly consistent part of Virginia Tech football. If it isn't Pittsburgh, it's James Madison or East Carolina upending Tech in early season match ups.

True there's still the ACC title to aim for as these are almost always non-conference missteps, but after seeing the Hokies completely outclassed on both sides of the line of scrimmage against Pitt, one can't help but be pessimistic about the odds of Tech beating Florida State or Clemson.

The Hokies currently have no offensive identity whatsoever. The much ballyhooed pistol formation has been a total flop. The running game has been completely nonexistent and each game has been a blur of formations and personnel swaps.

No one has rushed for more than 54 yards in a game—Michael Holmes in the opener against Georgia Tech—and the last two games have seen the leading rusher come in the form of a wide receiver and a quarterback.

That leaves the Hokies currently ranked 96th in the nation in rushing offense. Bad news for a program known for running the football.

Pitt freshman Rushel Shell (4) gashed Tech for 157 rushing yards
This is bad, but even worse given the total regression of quarterback Logan Thomas.

Thomas has struggled this season save for his fourth quarter performance against Georgia Tech. The Pitt game however was his worst game as a starter, missing basic throws, open receivers and getting rattled in a half-empty stadium.

One has to wonder exactly what if any tinkering went on at quarterback "guru" George Whitfield's passing workouts this past spring, but Thomas is just not the same QB from last season.

His throws are consistently missing high not surprisingly his completion percentage has dropped and two of his career-high interceptions against the Panthers were not even close to receivers.

The pressure of being a pre-season Heisman candidate and having to carry the entire offense may well be a factor, but something seems a bit off in his mechanics.

So time for solutions.

Tech needs to simplify on offense. They're trying to do too many things without perfecting any. The pistol formation was supposed to signify the Hokies modernizing the offense, but the philosophy remained the same.

The Frank Beamer recipe for success is simple, control the clock by holding the ball on offense, don't make mistakes on special teams, score what you can and play suffocating defense to eek out victories.

This works well, but Tech can't control the clock. Currently, they rank 111th in time of possession and 70th in turnover margin with a mark of -.33.

The pass protection has been pretty solid so keep throwing, but the Hokies need fewer formations.

Tech almost always looks great in the two-minute offense because it limits the play-calling to the top handful of plays. Expand on that a bit and toss the rest. Just because you have a ton of plays and looks doesn't mean the defense will be confused by your "complicated" offense.

The Hokies need to start Martin Scales at tailback because he is the most decisive runner and most likely to hit the holes in Tech's zone blocking scheme.

The lack of depth on defense was exposed against Pittsburgh after injuries forced a major shuffle in the secondary.

There's not much you can do about that, but I suspect Bud Foster has more than just injuries to deal with after his defense allowed 537 yards of total offense to a Pitt squad that scored more points against the Hokies (35) than they did against Cincinnati and Youngstown State combined (27).

In one more negative sidebar, it occurred to me after Saturday's thumping at Heinz Field that Tech seems to lose an awful lot in professional stadiums.

I did some digging and sure enough, since 2000, the Hokies are just 9-15 in such games.

I don't think there's a particular trend to read into there but it is slightly worrisome for a team poised to face a game Cincinnati club at FedEx Field in two weeks, a place where Tech is 0-2.

The good news getting back to my original point is this is nothing new for the Hokies. They've lost early in the season many times, including the last FedEx game against Boise State and the ensuing disaster of James Madison.

Tech usually rallies and finishes strong, but this season may be the biggest challenge yet.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Football and Politics as Usual in America

It’s football season sure, but not far beyond the bone-rattling hits of our nation’s most favored and dangerous sport lies a far more grotesque battle for dominance.

It’s election season and as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney continuously engage in the time-honored American tradition of lying and manipulating half-truths, it’s important to take a step back and marvel at the ghastly machinery of our political system at work.

Someone has to do it and the national media certainly aren’t the ones for the job.

The major news networks gamely tip toe around the parapets of actual journalism, but few are asking hard questions or taking anyone to task over the senseless nature of what has become an endless cycle of campaigning.

There are two things this has done to the way we are governed in this country.

First, politicians are less likely to attempt to make difficult, sweeping changes for fear of backlash come the next election. I’ve heard pundits discussing the idea that if re-elected the President can finally attempt to try and accomplish some big controversial things. 

However, the hyper-partisan politicians of our day have created the “lame duck” President, someone who can’t be trusted because he won’t be held accountable for his actions since he doesn’t have to run for re-election. 

President Obama wondering why he's doing this again.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell famously said with no touch of irony that “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.”

Which brings me to my second point. The election cycle has become so accelerated that a four-year term in office has really been shrunk down to two years before you have to begin running for re-election.

Coupled with the countless representatives jockeying for position as challengers for the White House who should instead be busy governing, we see a “lame duck” government as a whole and not just a President.

Just as professional football players live out their lives as hired assassins playing with an eye towards their next contract, our politicians are primarily motivated by how they best position themselves for the next election.

Governor Romney realizing what he's gotten himself into.

In addition to the unnecessarily accelerated campaign cycle, there are the record-setting gobs of money being thrust at politicians busy stumping about our nations financial struggles.

In August alone President Obama and the Democrats raised $114 million while governor Romney and the Republicans raked in $111 million.

According to this nifty chart from the New York Timesthat puts the total money raised at just over $1.1 billion, more than $900 million of which has been spent already.

Now that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money the United States owes, but it could certainly be used for much better purposes than political attack ads.

Could you imagine for example politicians traveling the country and holding rallies to fund our educational system or putting on a $25,000 a plate dinner to help families displaced by natural disasters?

That’s pandering we could all get behind.

Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. Politicians as a whole are little more than generally incompetent grifters with an insatiable lust for power and a taste for the flesh of young dogs.

Politicians will say just about anything they think we want to hear to get in our good graces, and we capitulate because there’s some special connection we’ve created in our minds.

These are dangerous people and they will stop at nothing to get to you. They’ll keep calling and sending letters and bombarding you with unwanted advertisements during commercial breaks of your beloved football games.

So while you’re watching oversized humans bash their heads into one another, keep in mind the delightful irony that it’s the exact same thing our politicians are doing with much higher stakes.

Be wary of the real beasts this football season.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More Than ACCeptable: ND to ACC

For the past several years, the only constant in collegiate athletics has been change. Teams have been moving conferences, some have said they would move ultimately to change their minds, and surprisingly enough some have stayed put.

Without question, football has been the primary driver of the changing landscape. After all, it is the primary revenue generator by a wide margin. Basketball has played a small part and even to some extent hockey, but that is essentially it when it comes to revenue generators. Perhaps some ACC institutions would consider baseball to be in the black but the majority of the country would disagree.

Speaking of the ACC, groundbreaking news was shared earlier today when the University of Notre Dame announced it accepted an invitation to join the ACC in all sports except football, which will remain independent, and hockey, which will join Hockey East in 2013. Hear firsthand from Notre Dame's Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick in the following interview about today's historic announcement.

Many are quick to display their disgust and resentment of the Irish for retaining its independence in football, wondering why on earth the ACC, its commissioner John Swofford, and each instutition's athletic directors would permit such an atrocity. If partisanship for the Irish, whether in favor of or against, is removed from the equation, the carefully trained eye uncovers that while the Irish certainly benefit from the move, members of the ACC benefit as well.

To get the sticking points of the football side of the deal out of the way, Notre Dame will play five ACC schools each season - three at home and two on the road - with the qualification that each ACC member must be scheduled at least once every three seasons. 

Notre Dame will in turn be able to retain games against traditional rivals such as USC, Navy, and Stanford among others. There is also likely to be a rotation of traditional Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue.

Moreover, and this is likely the biggest feather in the cap for the Irish, Notre Dame will gain access to the ACC's post-season bowl tie-ins. In possible scenarios, Notre Dame could actually play in the Orange Bowl as an at-large against the ACC Champion. No, the Irish will not be permitted to play in the ACC championship game since they will not be a full time football member.

Additionally, a Notre Dame team within one win of an ACC school would be eligible for selection over that ACC school, though. In other words, a 7-5 Notre Dame team could be selected to take an 8-4 ACC school's spot in one of their bowl tie-ins.

Where do the benefits for the ACC start kicking in, you ask? It's simple - exposure. Like them or not, the Irish draw attention wherever and whomever they play. Unlike most schools, Notre Dame has a national fan base that will naturally allow ACC schools, who by definition reside along the Atlantic Coast in eastern cities, exposure in markets they would not normally have an opportunity to take advantage of. 

After all, there were two big announcements today: Notre Dame's conference move and the iPhone 5. Depending on your news outlet, it is difficult to discern which communication received more press.

Going back to the point on exposure, it is likely that the ACC will experience ratings boosts in games featuring the Irish, which will only help in future television contract negotiations with networks. To be sure, the ACC will only have broadcasting rights to games featuring the Irish on the road against its full member schools, but something is certainly better than nothing.

This point on exposure is not based on pompous attitudes that Notre Dame football is better than everyone else. As it is, the product on the field has been quite mediocre as of late so that argument is out of the question. Where Note Dame arguably does a better job of any other institution, though, is in terms of its fan base.

Most schools have established fans in very specific geographic regions within close proximity to campus. Florida, for example has a strong base within Florida, USC has a strong base on the west coast, and Michigan has a strong base in the midwest. Notre Dame has a tremendous fan base everywhere, not just in the US but also abroad.

What the move also does for the ACC is create excitement within each school's respective fan bases. After all, anti-ND fans look forward to beating the Irish. Of course, schools want to beat every team on their schedule, but given Notre Dame's illustrious history and boastful fan base, victories over the Irish are relished more so than usual.

Traditional rivalry games, such as Virginia Tech versus Virginia and Duke versus North Carolina, will rein supreme for each respective fan base, but games against the Irish will also hold special meaning.

Aside from football, other sports should benefit for all parties involved as well. Notre Dame's soccer programs, perennial national championship threats, will fit in nicely with the ACC's rich tradition in the sport. Lacrosse will also benefit as the Irish have quickly ascended the national ranks and are now one of the nation's top programs with trips to the final four in two of the last three seasons. In fact, one of their title losses came to ACC power Duke. Track and Field has been a strength of Notre Dame's as well as the ACC's so there is mutual benefit there as well. Golf and baseball in the ACC were probably better off without Notre Dame, but the addition will not hurt.

John Swofford and the ACC athletics director's clearly must have seen such benefits, else they would have had no reason to extend an invitation to Notre Dame in the first place. Let it be clear, Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame did not force the ACC into offering an invitation. A mutual agreement was reached between all parties due to the realization that each had something to gain from the deal.

Case in point, while Notre Dame retains its exclusive NBC contract for broadcast of its home games, the Irish will not share in the ACC's contract with ESPN. It's a give-take relationship and all parties benefit.

All in all, Notre Dame and the ACC are better off today than they were yesterday. At the very least, ACC fans can take solace in the fact that the conference raised its exit fee charge to $50MM. Suffice to say, the ACC will look like this for years to come. It is undoubtedly stable and perhaps now immune from future conference expansion threats and opportunities.

Notre Dame Joins ACC...Sort Of

In typical Notre Dame fashion, they've finally elected to join the ACC solely for football reasons and managed to not actually join the conference fully for football.

It's classic hypocrisy as only the Irish can muster. They'll play five games a season against ACC competition meaning they can have their cake and eat it too.

They'll get to pick and choose which rivalries they keep and which become rarer than an ND bowl win.

They'll no doubt get special treatment and not have to paint the ACC logo on their historic and soon to be synthetic field. Perhaps the Irish will have gold-embossed portable logos for the weeks they're part of the conference that can be easily removed the rest of the time.

I'm certain there will be equal revenue sharing amongst all 15 (yikes!) ACC programs even though Notre Dame will continue to hold onto their unique television deal with NBC without sharing.

The only thing ACC commissioner John Swofford managed to leverage in favor of the existing conference members is that the Irish won't be eligible for the ACC Championship game.

It's outrageous that the ACC cowed to the demands of a prospective member like this. It shows once again that greedheads like Swofford care nothing about "student-athletes" or the integrity of their organization and only about the almighty dollar.

As Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins said of the ACC's arrangement, "I don't think there's out there a better situation than the one we have."

Yeah, no crap.

As my dear friend Eric succinctly put it earlier, "I wish we weren't humoring their [Notre Dame] laughably pompous and misguided exceptionalism."


Here come the Irish...to the Atlantic Coast.

It's not all bad of course. People are talking about ACC football in a slightly less sarcastic way than normal which has always been a problem.

It will open ACC football to a Notre Dame fan base that is only intimately familiar with the bottom-dwellers of the league.

Most importantly, Notre Dame will finally have to take on opponents like Virginia Tech, Florida State, Clemson and Miami without being able to dictate the terms of when and where they play.

The Irish are notoriously difficult to schedule because of their insistence to make non-rival opponents play multiple games in South Bend in exchange for only one game on their own campus.

That will now only be an issue for the "non-conference" opponents, whatever that means to the Irish.

Now Notre Dame will dig into their bottomless pockets to pay what is sure to be a hefty exit fee from the Big East. They will join their new conference members on unequal footing, but what else is new?

Oh yeah, welcome to the ACC.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hokies Wideout D.J. Coles to Miss Rest of Season

Virginia Tech head athletic trainer Mike Goforth announced Thursday that senior wide receiver D.J. Coles will miss the remainder of the season following an knee injury in the opening victory over Georgia Tech.

Coles will undergo an MRI on the same knee that was recovering from off-season PCL surgery. He will be eligible to apply for a medical hardship waiver which, if granted, will allow him to return for a fifth season similar to fellow receiver Dyrell Roberts.

The Hokies had several other receivers step up in Coles' absence.

Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller each had 82 yards receiving and redshirt-freshman Demitri Knowles had his first career catch on a beautiful 42-yard touchdown pass from Logan Thomas.

Tech returns to action Saturday in Blacksburg against Austin Peay at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN3.


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