My Sports Keyhole Thawing Out

Hey everyone. Long time, no post. With my favorite sport, college football, well under way, it's time for the blog to thaw out as I hopefully start adding some new content on a more consistent basis. I'll look to try and provide a weekly breakdown of SEC games, starting this Friday with a look ahead at the weekend's action.

In the meantime, here is an article that I wrote for the Bleacher Report earlier this week, looking back at Auburn's big win over South Carolina. Hope you enjoy:



I Ain't Scurred

Alabama fans have been on edge of late. Barely a month into their reign as national champs, they seem consumed by any possible threat to their preeminence, real or imagined.

Fresh on the heels of Auburn's consensus Top Five recruiting class, Bama fans are suddenly aware of an overwhelming bias towards Auburn by the state's media. Supposedly, Mobile and Huntsville have always been in bed with Auburn, and now Birmingham, the last bastion of objectivity in the state, has swung to the side of that West Georgia college on the Plains.

As any sane person can imagine, this train of thought is so delusional that even erstwhile "journalist" Paul Finebaum deemed it laughable. Finebaum had Birmingham News Sports Editor Tom Arenberg on his show this afternoon, and besides denying the charge, Arenberg made it clear that it would be more beneficial for his paper to have a slant towards Alabama given their larger fan base across the state. Indeed, even reasonable Alabama fans have not hesitated to call the Birmingham News the Bammerham News.

I'm not here to write about the delusions of some Alabama fans though, but rather the reasons behind them.

For the record, I don't think Alabama fans are scared of Auburn. Any Auburn fan who thinks so is probably equally delusional. But I do think there is a slight uneasiness amongst some Alabama fans regarding the current dynamic of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.

Fourteen months ago, Alabama was a freight train moving downhill. They were about to back up a BCS Bowl bid with another top ranked recruiting class, followed by a season that would see them crowned national champions on the field as well.

Meanwhile, down on the Plains, Tubs said thanks but no thanks to the challenge of Saban's recruiting machine and took the money and ran. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs then undertook a quick, but extensive scouting mission for Auburn's new head coach, culminating in the hiring of Gene Chizik, he of the 5-19 record at Iowa State. Laughter was the overwhelming response to this hiring from many Alabama fans (and some Auburn fans too). Bama's newfound edge over Auburn seemed as though it would be self-sustaining in the coming years with such an incompetent hire.

Fast forward eleven months to the 2009 Iron Bowl and the first cracks in the argument began to appear. Overwhelming underdogs Auburn played Alabama to a standstill and did not trail the Crimson Tide until there was a minute left in the game when, fair play to them, Alabama responded like a championship team should and willed themselves to victory in the end. Admittedly, Auburn fans probably took too much satisfaction from such a loss, but it was because they now had hope for a future that wasn't undeniably going to be colored Crimson and White.

Alabama's response was that Auburn had simply caught Alabama unawares, had given an unprepared Alabama team its best shot and still come up short. Nick Saban was convinced Auburn's week off had played a decisive role. It wasn't fair, he thought, that Auburn had had extra days to prepare while Alabama was locked in a bruising battle with the UT-Chattanooga Mocs just the Saturday before this Friday game.

Something that has been grossly overlooked with this Iron Bowl, however, is that Auburn did not come anywhere near to playing its best game against Bama. Had they done so, they would have won. As it was, Auburn turned the ball over twice in key moments; dropped passes at inopportune moments; failed numerous times to take advantage of great field position. Certainly, Alabama is a great team and deserves some credit for this disruption, but better execution by Auburn would have nullified the threat.

The reality is that while Auburn's defense did play its best game of the year, the offense and special teams did not perform at the same level. Yet despite this, Auburn held the lead until the final minutes of the game. And so it was that Auburn fans thought to themselves, "Once we have some four star and five star talent out there, we'll start winning these games." Bama fans, while acknowledging that Auburn had come desperately close to ruining their season, retorted that Auburn cannot and will not ever be able to recruit at the same level as the Crimson Tide.

Fast forward a little over two months and you know what? Bama fans were right. Auburn could not recruit at the same level as Alabama. According to Rivals, Auburn recruited one level better, finishing with the fourth ranked recruiting class in the country while Alabama finished fifth. The response from Bama fans was that Rivals isn't the only recruiting service and Auburn finished behind Bama in the other ones. Fair enough, but without even taking into account the fact that those other recruiting services do not consider Junior College recruits in their rankings, Bama fans found the truth that their last two recruiting "national championships" had been under the guise of Rivals to be just a little too inconvenient.


Yet I can't really accuse Alabama fans of being hypocrites without saying the same thing about Auburn fans. When Alabama started to become a recruiting juggernaut and let everyone know about it, Auburn fans, backed by a six game winning streak over the Tide, belittled Alabama fans for getting so excited about something that they thought didn't really matter. Well, two years later and my how the worm has turned.

Now Auburn fans are the ones excited about recruiting and Bama fans are the ones belittling its significance. I guess we're all hypocrites, though I think Auburn fans are savvy enough to realize that one recruiting class does not mean we are back.  We'll have to prove it on the field.

That doesn't mean Auburn fans can't be excited, though, and that seems to be bothering Alabama fans. Bama fans don't want anybody raining on their parade of post-national championship bliss. It genuinely seems to be unsettling them, and I for one am loving every minute of it, fully aware of its actual negligible impact.

The early commitment of Cullman OL Spencer Region to Auburn after privately committing to Alabama seems to have only exacerbated the situation, culminating in the recent cries of foul towards the Alabama state media and its clear bias towards Auburn.


It's clear that while Alabama fans may not be scared, they don't like to share the limelight, especially so soon after their reaffirmation as God's gift to college football. Got room for two on that pedestal that you Bama fans like to place your team on? Better make room, because it doesn't look like Auburn is going to just cede their position in the state, and that should make a great rivalry even better.


What I'm Watching this Week (and why)

Monday/January 25:

Georgetown at Syracuse (College Basketball on ESPN, 7:00) - Featuring two of the Big East's best, this showdown in the Carrier Dome shouldn't disappoint. Syracuse could be a contender for a number one seed come March, but don't expect Georgetown to back down from this contest. The Hoyas became the first Big East team to be Pittsburgh and gave Villanova all they wanted on the road. They're a tough out for any team.

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2, 9:00) - Getting down to the nitty gritty now in the Happy Slam. Men's quarterfinals begins today (this day actually being Tuesday in Australia at time of airing in the United States). Lone American Andy Roddick takes on the up and coming Marin Cilic. Assuming a sometimes troubling knee is not bothering him, Roddick's experience might just be enough to see him through against the more talented Croatian. The other quarterfinal is a mouth watering one as Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray square off. Murray has played nearly flawless tennis thus far while Rafa is struggling a bit for form and confidence. Murray might bring the best out of him, though.

Tuesday/January 26:

Catania at Roma in the Coppa Italia (Italian Soccer on GolTV, 3:00) - Roma has been on a massive unbeaten streak and is coming off a dramatic stoppage time victory over Juve in Turin. They'll be flying high regardless of whether Ranieri tinkers with the squad for this cup match. We're in the quarterfinals now, however, and I expect a strong team. Nobody wants to get this far in the cup and not take it seriously from here on out.

Kentucky at South Carolina (College Basketball on ESPN) - Heavy has been the head that wears the crown so far this year in college basketball. Kansas had a pretty solid run at number one before finally being toppled by Tennessee. Texas lasted only a matter of weeks and now has two losses. How will Kentucky handle the pressure of being ranked number one now? A trip to Columbia to face the Gamecocks is often tricky for any team, but a true number one shouldn't have any problems with this one.

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2, 9:00) - Men's quarterfinals action continues as Roger Federer takes on Nikolay Davydenko while Novak Djokovic will meet Muhammad Ali's doppelganger, Jo Wilfried Tsonga, in a rematch of the 2008 Australian Open Final. Davydenko has been on quite a run the last few months, which includes two wins over Federer, but matches in a Grand Slam are a different thing altogether. Djokovic-Tsonga could be an absolute classic.

Wednesday/January 27:

Manchester City at Manchester United in a Carling Cup Semi-final (English Soccer on ESPN360, 3:00) - After a heated affair in the first leg, a trip to Wembley is on the line in the return leg at Old Trafford. It was apparently in the stars (with the help of some questionable decisions from the ref) for Carlos Tevez to give his new Manchester team (Man City) a slim 2-1 lead over his old one (Man United) heading over to the red half of Manchester and everything has revolved around the Argentine since, especially his ongoing feud with Gary Neville. United still have a wonderful chance to advance to the final and put one over on their city rivals, though. The atmosphere should be incandescent.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (College Basketball on ESPNU, 7:00) - Lost in the shuffle of Kentucky's unbeaten start to the season and Tennessee's recent short-handed heroics (up until they met a Georgia buzzsaw this last weekend anyway) is a Vanderbilt team that may just be one of the best teams in the conference. They've started SEC play with a 4-0 record, including two on the road. The competition hasn't been the best, but an unbeaten start still warrants mention. With a brand new top 25 ranking, they'll head into Knoxville with a chance to win over further doubters and establish themselves as Kentucky's main contenders in the East. Likewise for Tennessee as they look to bounce back from their rough outing in Athens.

Florida State at Duke (College Basketball on ESPN, 9:00) - Duke may have finally found some swagger this past weekend with a big road win over Clemson. They'll look to continue that momentum with a streaky Seminoles team coming to town. Florida State's two conference losses against N.C. State and Maryland sort flatter to deceive, but two wins over a ranked Georgia Tech team look nice. Plus, Florida State's athleticism usually gives Duke fits, both home and away. This could be an awkward matchup for the Blue Devils.

Thursday/January 28:

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2, 3:30) - That's 3:30 in the A.M. as the men's semi-finals get under way. This match will feature the Roddick-Cilic winner versus the Nadal-Murray winner. It's easy to envision either of the possible matchups (Roddick-Nadal, Cilic-Nadal, Roddick-Murray, or Cilic-Murray), such is the depth of balance in the men's game these days.

Juventus at Inter in the Coppa Italia (Italian Soccer on GolTV, 2:45) - These two teams enter this quarterfinal matchup in completely different moods. Juve is coming off of yet another loss, this time at home to Roma, and are sinking fast. Inter, meanwhile, after a shaky run of form, righted the ship with a comprehensive win over city rivals Milan in the Derby della Madonnina, despite being down to nine men by the end. The Nerazzurri (Inter) may finally put a nail in the coffin of Juve coach Ciro Ferrara.

Ole Miss at Auburn (College Basketball on ESPNU, 9:00) -  A top 20 team visiting Auburn usually means another loss for my Tigers, but Auburn has at least been playing somewhat adequately as of late. They followed up a tough loss to top ranked Kentucky with a road win in Baton Rouge. An eight point loss against Vandy followed on Saturday after having built up a sixteen point lead in Nashville. Granted, they did blow that lead and eventually lost by eight points, but they were good enough to build up a sixteen point lead to begin with. That's progress for this team. Probably won't bring a win against the Rebels, but they should play them close.

Friday/January 29:

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2, 3:30) - That's once again 3:30 in the A.M. as the men's semi-finals continue in Melbourne. This match will feature the Federer/Davydenko winner against the Djokovic/Tsonga winner. I think Davydenko has a shot againt Fed, but it's more likely that we'll see Roger versus one of the other two contenders. I'm tempted to say Djokovic for his Grand Slam experience and his form this tournament, but Tsonga has won the last four against the Djoker.


What I'm Watching this Weekend (and why)

Saturday/January 23:

Barcelona at Valladolid in La Liga (Spanish Soccer on GolTV, 2:00)  - This shouldn't be much of a match, but Barca are always fun to watch, especially when they start kicking into a high gear like they are right now. They're starting to find their rhythm now and should have no problem in this one, even on the road.

Roma at Juventus in Serie A (Italian Soccer on FSC, 2:30) - It's a mouth watering weekend of soccer in Italy with the Milan Derby on Sunday. Roma at Juventus is no mere appetizer, though. Roma has ridden a rich vein of form to third position in the table while Juve continue to slide in the wrong direction. Champions League spots are up for grabs in this one. Should be a cracking atmosphere. FORZA ROMA!!

Texas at UConn (College Basketball on CBS, 4:00) - Texas has already ceded its short lived grip on the number one ranking after their loss to Kansas State on Monday, but things won't get a whole lot easier at UConn. The Huskies have been well below their best most of the year, but Jim Calhoun's temporary departure may have a galvanizing affect on the team, especially with a top five caliber Texas team visiting.  The Longhorns could use a victory here to announce themselves as a true contender. Everybody loses (usually) in college basketball. It's about how a team bounces back from those defeats that often define them.

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel, 7:00) - This is when the tournament really starts to heat up, literally and figuratively. The courts may well be baking while all the top contenders begin to run into their stiffest competition yet. It's the Round of 16. Today, we'll see Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro in action while the two remaining Americans in the draw will also be fighting for the pride of the red, white, and blue. Andy Roddick takes on hard hitting Fernando Gonzalez while Georgia Bulldog and huge underdog John Isner takes on Andy Murray. Should be fun to watch.

Honduras vs USA in an International Friendly (Soccer on FSC, 9:00) - Final Preparations for South Africa and the 2010 World Cup get underway at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles for the United States and Honduras. Both teams will be understrength, but there will be several players on the field for both teams with a legit chance of making the final squad for the World Cup. In fact, more than a few are sure bets barring fitness problems. The result doesn't matter here. It's all about the future and getting ready for June.

Duke at Clemson (College Basketball on ESPN, 9:00) - This one lost a little bit of its luster when both teams lost on the road in midweek, but it's still a top twenty showdown (for now). Clemson has asserted itself since their whooping at Cameron and were a little unlucky to lose against ranked Georgia Tech on the road earlier this week. They should still be plenty confident for this showdown. Duke, meanwhile...who knows what to think. Duke just isn't what they were five to six years ago. They're still a top ten team, but I think that's down mainly to their name. They're too inconsistent right now. A win here would help sort that out.

Sunday/January 24:

Milan at Inter in Serie A (Italian Soccer on FSC, 2:30) - Easily the soccer match of the weekend in Europe (and the world), this may just be the best sporting event to watch all weekend. There's arguably no city derby in the world that is as high profile as the Derby della Madonnina. Residents of Glasgow and Buenos Aires may differ, but in terms of prestige, Boca Juniors, River Plate, Celtic, and Rangers can't touch the two Milan clubs. This derby may not be as ferocious as those others, but it will be intense and the level of play will be very high. On top of that, these are the two best teams in Italy right now. Hard to believe after the way Inter ran circles around Milan way back in August, but it's the truth. While Inter has stumbled a little as of late, Milan may be the hottest team in Europe right now. They can really prove it here. A win by either team will make them a clear favorite in the race for the Scudetto. A draw may be more likely.

Malaga at Real Madrid in La Liga (Spanish Soccer on ESPN, 3:00) - Simply put, this is Spanish soccer in HD. That's really the biggest reason I want to watch this game. Despite a tough loss last weekend in Bilbao, Real should have no trouble in here, but I don't care. Seeing the likes of Ronaldo and Kaka in crystal clear HD at the Bernebeu is all the reason in the world that I need to watch this one.

AFC and NFC Championship games (NFL Playoffs on CBS at 3:00 and Fox at 6:30) - To be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge NFL fan at all. I enjoy watching my Titans play a bit and I'll watch some certain teams here and there, but I generally only watch NFL football because it's all that's on or because I'm keeping up with a former Auburn player. But it is that time of the year where I finally start to pay attention to see who I'll be watching in the Super Bowl. Both games look intriguing at least. The Colts-Jets game brings back memories of that famous Super Bowl where Joe Namath guaranteed victory. The Saints-Vikings should be fun to watch as a gunslinger matchup between Brees and Favre.

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2, 7:00) - Men's Round of 16 action continues Down Under. At time of writing, we don't know all the participants as matches are still going on, but we know for sure we'll see the likes of Federer, Djokovic, Davydenko, and Verdasco. That's some big boy tennis there.


O Pac-10, Where Art Thou?

Has anybody been keeping up with college basketball?


Still too busy with football happenings, college and pro?

Well, when your mind finally begins to wander away from the pigskin, you might be surprised by what you see in college basketball this season. Or more accurately, by what you don't see.

Take a look here at the current rankings. Notice anything missing?

Okay, so I probably killed the suspense in that question with the title of this post, but that's right, you won't find any Pac-10 teams ranked in the top 25 of either poll. Arizona State is the only Pac-10 team receiving votes in both polls. An 11-6 California team coming off a fifteen point loss on the road to Washington is also receiving a solitary vote in the Coaches poll. Good to know somebody really believes in the Golden Bears. Maybe it's Cal Coach Mike Montgomery.

Regardless, it's going to be a while before a Pac-10 team sees the light of day of a top 25 poll. Meanwhile, some other conferences that have top 25 teams? Outside of the other power conferences and of course the West Coast Conference with its perennially ranked Gonzaga team, the Mountain West, A-10, Horizon, and Missouri Valley conferences are all host to a top 25 team.

Meanwhile, the Pac-10, home to four separate programs with a national championship banner hanging from its rafters, will do well to get two teams into the NCAA tournament. Two! UCLA, home to Wooden and holders of a record eleven NCAA championships, are now (at 7-10) the whipping boys of the conference just two years removed from a run of three straight appearances in the Final Four.

They're not even reeling from recruiting violations either. That would be crosstown rivals USC. With a winning record early on in conference play and a double digit dismantling of eighth ranked Tennessee, the Trojans may just be best team in the league. Too bad it doesn't count. In a bid to beat the NCAA to the punch, USC has already suspended itself from post-season play this year, including participation in the Pac-10 Conference Tournament.

Okay, you say. You're thinking, "Didn't this USC team win the conference tourney last year and punch its ticket to the Big Dance, making it to the second round before narrowly falling to eventual NCAA Championship runner-up Michigan State?"

Well...yes, they did, and that was a relatively young team. But once Tim Floyd resigned and the writing was on the wall concerning possible NCAA rules violations, much of last year's team bolted.

Credit to much maligned Kevin O'Neill for rallying his undermanned team, but it does not reflect well upon the Pac-10 that such an understrength team with nothing to play for is holding its own. Both Cal and Washington began the season with some expectations, but have been inconsistent at best. The whole league has. Each team has lost at least six times overall (bar Arizona State who has five losses) and twice in conference play.

So where did this sudden decline come from? Generally speaking, the Pac-10 hasn't been at its best the past few years anyway, but it could still hang its hat on UCLA's run of three straight Final Four appearances. Even that was deceiving, though. UCLA did make it to the Championship game in 2006, but was run off the court by Florida. Same thing happened the next year when they met the Gators in the Final Four. A year later, it was Memphis having its way with the Bruins in a national semi-final game. Throw in Lute Olsen's drawn out departure at Arizona and the Pac-10's power base has been in some flux since.

Beyond that, the Pac-10 has been crippled by early departures. Over the past couple of years, the Pac-10 has had fourteen underclassmen taken in the NBA draft, more than any other conference including the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten combined.

But not only are Pac-10 teams having trouble keeping their talent enrolled, they're having trouble getting it there in the first place. The region, especially California, is a hotbed of basketball talent, but more than a few of its best players have left the area to play their collegiate ball. Some of those players this year are suiting up for the likes of Florida State, North Carolina, and Texas.


Over the long term, a season this bad for the Pac-10 is probably just a blip. After all, the SEC only sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, and one of those was a Mississippi State team that had only got in by virtue of winning the SEC Tournament. Yet in just a few days, Kentucky will be the number one ranked team in the country if they beat Arkansas in Lexington this weekend. Then there is a top ten Tennessee team that just knocked off the top ranked Kansas Jayhawks a couple of weeks ago. What a difference  year makes.

But it's hard to see that dramatic of a renaissance coming for the Pac-10 next year. Kentucky went from a non-tourney team to a top five program in the blink of an eye. You might think that UCLA, a program of a similar ilk to Kentucky, might be capable of the same thing, but I have trouble seeing it with Ben Howland there. And I'm not sure there's a Calipari type hire waiting in the wings if the Bruins decide that one terrible season is enough to fire Howland.

Maybe it's just a question of style over substance, though. How much has the SEC actually improved from last year? In the West, Mississippi State and Ole Miss look like Tourney teams, but the division's two best teams a year ago, Auburn and LSU, are now arguably its two worst. Alabama and Arkansas aren't much better. Things do look a bit better in the East with Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vandy, but Florida continues its post-championship haze of mediocrity while for Georgia and South Carolina, better days are in the future, not the present.

But the SEC is perceived to be a stronger conference this year because Kentucky, with one recruiting class and an unbeaten start to the season, has already reestablished itself under Calipari as one of the preeminent programs in the country. And when Kentucky is perceived to be strong, the SEC generally benefits perception wise, right or wrong.

The parallels for UCLA and Arizona and the Pac-10 are similar to that of Kentucky and the SEC. Both of these schools need to be competing at a high level for the Pac-10 to maximize its credibility. Failing that, the Pac-10 would expect at least one of them to be one of its upper tier teams, but UCLA is 7-10 and coming off a double digit home loss to USC while Zona is the epitome of mediocrity at 9-9. That's not what the Pac-10 needs.

Besides losing its players to the NBA, to other conferences, and having its two historically power programs struggle at the moment, something else that works against the Pac-10 is the media, and I'm not just talking about the East Coast bias. The Pac-10 is the only power conference that doesn't have a contract with ESPN to show conference games. The ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC all have games shown throughout the week on the ESPN family of networks. Even the West Coast Conference is good for a game or two, and not all them exclusively showing the Zags.

The Pac-10, meanwhile, has its weeknight games shown on Fox Sports. The time difference will always work against the Pac-10, and only hardcore college basketball fans like myself are going to stay up late in the East to watch these games.

But that's only if I can find them on my television. It's hard for the Pac-10 and Fox to market the midweek games because nobody is watching Fox Sports on a consistent enough basis to see the games being built up. That's not even getting into the issue of the broadcast being regional. For instance, there are Pac-10 games this week being televised by Fox Sports, but my local cable company will not be showing them on any of my standard Fox Sports channels. You have to subscribe to a special cable package to be able to watch them.

Sorry Pac-10, I think I'll just watch college basketball where I know I can find it: ESPN. Might want to sign a television contract with them soon. In the meantime, you better hope that UCLA and Arizona turn it around in soon before the Pac-10 slides further into the abyss of irrelevance. Even the Big Ten is laughing at you.

To be clear. I hope that the Pac-10 does turn it around so that people will care about it. Having already mentioned the fact the Pac-10 has sent more underclassmen to the NBA in the last couple of years than the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC combined, it's clear there has been some talent in the league. But the conference has always been fighting a losing battle in the arena of perception, and this year the hits just keep on coming with its on-court play and off-court issues (I'm looking at you USC).

Even if this year is a blip of mediocrity, there's no denying that the Pac-10 has its work cut out for it in trying to level out the playing field with the other power conferences.


What I'm Watching this Week (and why)

Monday/January 18:

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel, 7:00) - I'll be watching early round play in the Australian Open all week long on both the Deuce and the Tennis Channel. TTC will have an early two hour window of coverage just about every day, starting at 7:00, but the bulk of the action will be shown on the Deuce starting at 9:00 and going pretty much through the night into the morning given the time difference. This year's tournament on the men's sidewill be as wide open as it's been in a long time. Should mean some chaotic, exciting tennis.

Texas at Kansas St. (College Basketball on ESPN, 9:00) - Texas seemed to wilt a little under the pressure of being ranked number one on Saturday, needing overtime to beat little fancied Texas A&M in Austin. They may have just been caught looking ahead to an awkward trip up to Manhattan, Kansas, to face a top ten Kansas St. team. The Octagon of Doom is not a very hospitable place for visitors, less so when it actually houses a good team. If Texas plays with the same complacency it did against the Aggies, then we'll have a new number one in a week's time.

Tuesday/January 19:

Manchester City-Manchester United in a Carling Cup Semifinal (English Soccer on ESPN360, 3:00) - This match was suppose to take a place a couple of weeks ago, but bad weather postponed it until now. But a Carling Cup Semifinal featuring city rivals? Yes please. United appears as inconsistent as ever, but a cup tie may just bring out the best in them. Roberto Mancini has now had time to acclimatize to his surroundings in Man City, but he's coming off of his first loss and the honeymoon may well and truly be over. I hope so.

Clemson at Georgia Tech (College Basketball on ESPN2, 7:00) - Is a new power base being established in the ACC? In the long term, probably not. Duke and UNC should continue to be the class of the conference year in and year out, but Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Virgina all have made some noise early on this year in conference play, and the former two face off in this top 25 matchup. Clemson has rebounded well form its blowout loss to Duke with three straight wins, including a blowout of their own against UNC on Wednesday. Tech has been a little less consistent, but does hold wins over both Duke and UNC. Even if a win over UNC isn't what it was a year ago, the Tar Heels were previously unbeaten in Chapel Hill until the Yellow Jackets rolled into town. This should be a good game.

Wednesday/January 20:

Auburn at LSU (College Basketball on the SEC Network, 8:00) - My self-masochist ways came to an end on Saturday when my Auburn Tigers actually manned up and gave #2 Kentucky all they wanted on the Plains. After being down by nineteen in the first half with the Wildcats about to deliver the knockout blow, Auburn rallied twice to tie the game and had another shot to tie with under twenty seconds to go, but alas the shot didn't go down. It remains to be seen if the same effort can be sustained in Baton Rouge, where Auburn rarely has success, but this team has earned my respect at least. Can they keep it?

Baylor at Kansas (College Basketball on ESPN2, 9:00) - This game might be interesting. It might not. With the game in Lawrence, all signs point to a decisive Jayhawk victory, but we will at least learn more about this little known top 25 Baylor squad. Same goes for Kansas who may still be trying to find itself after losing to Tennessee over a week ago.

Thursday/January 21:

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel, 7:00)

Friday/January 22:

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel, 7:00)


What I'm Watching this Weekend (and why)

Saturday/January 16:

Syracuse at West Virginia (College Basketball on ESPN, 12:00) - This top ten showdown provides an early bird special for college basketball fans. Syracuse had gotten off to maybe the hottest start in the country before falling at home to a now even hotter Pittsburgh team. No shame there. No team goes unbeaten in college basketball and the Orange have been outstanding otherwise. West Virginia is a good team as well, and they're even better in Morgantown. Should be a classic.

Manchester City at Everton in the EPL (English Soccer on FSC, 12:30) - Emerging Man City visit an Everton team that is slowly gaining steam. This one has caught my attention mainly for the opportunity of seeing America's best player, Landon Donovan, in action across the pond. So often his spells in Europe have disappointed, but his time in England got off to an auspicious start in London last weekend against Arsenal. Hopefully he can build on that performance here and derail City's title charge.

Ole Miss at Tennessee (College Basketball on the SEC Network, 1:30) - Fresh off of a bludgeoning of my Auburn Tigers on Thursday, the Vols look to continue the momentum against a talented, but inconsistent Ole Miss. Shame on ESPN for more or less relegating this top 25 matchup to regional television, meaning I'll be watching in standard def given Comcast Chattanooga's peculiar decision making.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina (College Basketball on ESPN, 2:00) - These two ACC teams come limping into this top 20 contest. Georgia Tech failed to build on its win over Duke and lost on the road to suddenly resurgent Virginia. North Carolina got demolished in Clemson on Wednesday and just continues to lose games. Despite all their talent (young thought it is), the Tar Heels have already lost more games than all of last year. Even if that team did win the national title, they were hoping for better in Chapel Hill. Both teams need this win, but Georgia Tech has not traveled well so far in conference play.

Real Madrid at Athletic Bilbao in La Liga (Spanish Soccer on GolTV, 4:00) - Political and cultural undertones abound in this match between the Spanish giants from the capital and the flagship of Basque nationalism, Athletic Bilbao. Athletic's home stadium, San Mames, is intimidating to all Spanish teams, but there is always extra spice reserved for the visit of Real. Of all the autonomous and provincial regions of Spain, no region is more singularly so than the Basque country. This is highlighted by a team in Athletic Bilbao that only uses players with Basque bloodlines. There is no love lost for what Real Madrid represents to them: Franco and his brutal regime trying to inject a broader Spanish culture into the region. This should be a feisty affair.

Kentucky at Auburn (College Basketball on the SEC Network, 4:00) - My self-masochist ways continue by watching this bloodletting. Kentucky fans should enjoy this game. Auburn fans...not so much. Auburn played well for about fifteen minutes on Thursday against the Vols, building a twelve point lead with about five minutes left in the half on the back of some good shooting and toughness on the glass. Then Tennessee woke up and realized Auburn had no inside game and started to guard the perimeter and began to box out. After that, Tennessee outscored my Auburn Tigers 59-21. Barf. Home court advantage should count for little here. We might be able to partly contain Wall and Bledsoe, but Patterson and Cousins will destroy us down low. Poor Brandon Knox.

Sevilla at Barcelona in La Liga (Spanish Soccer on ESPN360, 4:00) - Why ESPN is not choosing to broadcast this game on one of their prime channels (and thus in HD) is beyond me. These two teams have played two hugely entertaining Copa Del Rey matchups in the last couple of weeks, with Sevilla coming out on top on aggregate, knocking Barca out of their first competition in almost two years. These two teams are probably sick of facing one another, but soccer fans aren't. Barca will want revenge and the Camp Nou should provide the perfect platform to get it. It's the match of the weekend in Europe, yet ESPN has relegated this one to the computer. Well done.

Sunday/January 17:

Australian Open (Tennis on ESPN2, 7:00) - After knocking ESPN just a second ago, I will now praise them. Tennis doesn't get a lot of play in this country, especially if it's being played at weird hours of the day, but ESPN2 begins two weeks of expansive coverage of the year's first grand slam on Sunday. Sure, the Tennis Channel will cut into some of its coverage, but there should be at least ten hours of coverage a day on ESPN2 every day of the tournament. I can handle that. This is the year's first big sporting event and it's one of my favorites. I'll slowly develop into a pod person over the coming weeks as I watch a bright television screen in the dark of night, but it will be well worth it in the end. We don't even know yet who is playing on Sunday, but I don't care. I'm watching some big boy tennis this weekend. Can't wait.