End of the 2015 College Football Regular Season

And so, with the release of the playoff committee’s final rankings, we have reached the end of the 2015 NCAA FBS regular football season (the other divisions ended their regular seasons weeks ago). Even though there’s still one more game to be played (Army-Navy), which could have actually been an important matchup for bowl positioning had Navy not lost to Houston. Since we already know which bowls Navy (Military) and Army (None) are going to, the game will have no effect on the post-season picture. At least you get to see two teams comprised of future competing in a long storied rivalry. More importantly, it’s a chance to see two teams using a triple option against each other in 2015. And most importantly, it’s the only college football game on that day outside of the FCS playoffs.

I’m beginning to question the wisdom of releasing playoff football rankings each week for the second half of the season, even if that wisdom basically amounts to “we can make a selection show out of this that will earn us money.”   Last season, Ohio State leapfrogged two Big 12 teams after a (admittedly impressive) championship game win over Wisconsin. Of course, football rankings have a strange logic that moves teams up and down depending on whether they won or lost instead of starting a new ranking every week. So #6 Ohio State was rewarded for beating #11 Wisconsin, even though you would expect a team ranked number 6 to beat a team ranked number 11. Publishing a ranking that says you’re going to put TCU into the playoff then leaves them out a week later because Ohio State did what it was supposed to do according to your rankings doesn’t make much sense. Seems better to just publish one at the end of the year, but then you wouldn’t get a selection show for seven weeks.

We all know that it worked out pretty well for Ohio State and the selection committee last season, so this season they again had a Big 10 team leapfrog a Big 12 team in the final rankings. At least this time Oklahoma is still in the playoff. It’s probably worse news for Clemson, who despite being ranked number 1 were underdogs when betting started. And really, which team would you rather play?

  • Option #1 is a team that embarrassingly lost to 5-7 Texas, struggled to win against #23 Tennessee and #11 TCU, but beat everyone else by double digits (including #16 Oklahoma State and #17 Baylor).
  • Option #2 embarrassingly lost to 5-7 Nebraska, had one score victories over #15 Oregon, #7 Ohio State, #4 Iowa, 4-8 Rutgers, and 2-10 Purdue, required a miraculous loss of awareness by a punter to beat #14 Michigan, but managed to win the other six games (including two against MAC teams) by double digits.

Both are flawed resumes, but if I had to choose one it’d be Option #2. Unfortunately for Clemson, they’ll have to play Option #1. But almost everyone (including me) thought that Alabama would destroy Ohio State, and that didn’t happen.

Now it’s almost time for Bowl season, rewarding only the best teams providing entertaining matchups. Oh, right, they’ve added so many bowls (there are 41 now) and watered down the requirements so much that they’re letting in some 5-7 teams now (three of them!). While I know everyone else can’t wait for the AutoNation Cure Bowl featuring 5-7 San Jose and 6-6 Georgia State, these are the games that look most interesting to me:

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 19 3:30 EST) – #22 Utah (9-3) vs. BYU (9-3)

After taking a season off the Holy War returns in bowl form as thousands of Mormons once again descend on Las Vegas. The season has made Utah’s opening day win against Michigan more impressive, but their losses against UCLA, USC, and Arizona less so. On the other hand, BYU couldn’t beat UCLA or Michigan.

Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 29 5:30) – #10 North Carolina (11-2) vs. #17 Baylor (10-2)

The quality of this game depends on whether or not Baylor will have a quarterback, since they were down to putting a wide receiver at the position last game (they lost, by the way). Whether or not Chris Johnson can play after his concussion or Jarrett Stidham’s ankle is sufficiently healed remains to be seen.

Texas Bowl (Dec. 29 9:00) – Texas Tech (7-5) vs. #20 LSU (8-3)

Texas Tech has a very good offense. They also have an abysmal defense, so at least this game should be fun if you like scoring.

Peach Bowl (Dec. 31 12:00) – #18 Houston (12–1) vs. #9 Florida State (10–2)

Houston gets to represent the entire Group of Five in a major bowl. Houston’s main issue is that they may only be a decent team with a very good quarterback, since they lost to 6-6 AAC competitor Connecticut when Ward was out. On the other side, Florida State may be very good team with a merely decent quarterback (whether it’s Maguire or Golson).  Quarterbacks are an important part of the team, but having an excellent one doesn’t matter if the rest of the team is completely outmatched.

Orange Bowl (Dec. 31 4:00) – #1 Clemson (13–0) vs. #4 Oklahoma (11–1)

National Semifinal #1

Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31 8:00) – #2 Alabama (12–1) vs. #3 Michigan State (12–1)

National Semifinal #2

Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1 1:00) – #14 Michigan (9–3) vs. #19 Florida (10–3)

Two teams with first year head coaches that performed much better than expected. The only problem is that Florida’s offense was a lot more impressive before Will Grier got suspended, but their defense is still excellent.

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1 1:00) – #8 Notre Dame (10–2) vs. #7 Ohio State (11–1)

Two teams that were beaten in three games by a combined seven points, otherwise they’d both be in contention for the National Championship. They’ll have to settle for what could be an entertaining Fiesta Bowl.

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1 4:30) – #5 Iowa (12–1) vs. #6 Stanford (11–2)

One of these teams had a very impressive win against Northwestern, and the other had a not so impressive loss against Northwestern. I’m still not sure that means that Iowa is going to win here, considering the rest of the team’s schedules, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1 8:30) – #12 Mississippi (9–3) vs. #16 Oklahoma State (10–2)

Mississippi beat Alabama, then lost to Memphis; they lost to Arkansas, then beat LSU and Mississippi State. In short, I have no idea how they’ll perform against Oklahoma State, who are looking to rebound since losing two straight after going 10-0 to start the season.

Alamo Bowl (Jan. 2 6:45) – #11 TCU (10–2) vs. #15 Oregon (9–3)

Matching up the preseason #2 and #7, with both teams once thinking they could get into the playoffs at some point. That didn’t happen, but they’re still both very good teams and offer an intriguing matchup.

National Championship Game (Jan. 11 8:30) – To Be Decided vs. To Be Decided

For all its flaws, the playoff system is an improvement over the BCS.  I may complain about Michigan State being ranked ahead of Oklahoma, but at least both of them get a chance to compete for the championship on the field instead of in the minds of poll voters.

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The Walking Dead – Mid Season 6 Notes

Just like a year ago, The Walking Dead began its season with promise and then proceeded to mostly squander it. The difference is that this time, instead of going from “Could the Walking Dead finally be a great show?” to “nah, but it’s still pretty good”, it went from “this could be a pretty good season” to “yawn”.

Spoilers below

Continue reading “The Walking Dead – Mid Season 6 Notes”

2016 Democratic Primary Debate #1

Hillary “My Position is Whatever Your Position Is” Clinton

With a huge nation-wide gap between her and Sanders, she was able to win this debate simply by not losing it. She gave a good answer to the criticism that she waffles on issues, pointing out that she adapts her positions as she receives new information. It’s generally better to adjust your erroneous position than to keep it because otherwise you’d be labeled a flip-flopper. I’m not entirely convinced by the answer, I still think she’s adjusting her stances to whatever the Democratic base is feeling at the moment, but it was probably the best possible response. Similarly, the burn prepared for whoever used her vote on the Iraq War to demonstrate she lacked good judgement (it just happened to be Chaffee) was effective. Pointing out that the current president trusted her enough with foreign policy to make her Secretary of State is a fine soundbite, even if it ignores the reality of the political reasons for Obama making that appointment.

Some of her remarks about foreign policy were strange for a former Secretary of State. The idea that Medvedev was actually in the man charge of Russia as president and not just a placeholder because Putin couldn’t hold three consecutive terms, for example. Saying that Russia’s aggressive expansion only began once Putin got back the presidency (which Medvedev could theoretically have challenged, but didn’t since he was just keeping Putin’s seat warm) ignores the fact that the South Ossetia War took place during Medvedev’s first year. Also, backing Obama’s plan to use airstrikes instead of land intervention in Libya was perfectly reasonable, although it ignores the fact that Libya was soon thrown into another civil war nearly as soon as we stopped our support.

Clinton also unsurprisingly faltered when going up against Sanders in terms of financial policy. Saying that she represented Wall Street as a Senator and told them to “cut it out” (because that totally changed anything) was probably her biggest gaffe of the night. Her response to the question of how she would be different from Obama was the fact that she was a woman was also too obvious pandering. “Is a woman” shouldn’t be any more a qualification for winning an election than “is a man”.

Overall though, Clinton wasn’t excellent but was very solid. She seemed polished and presidential, answered the questions without making too many obvious errors, and made the most of pointed remarks about her major weaknesses. In other words, she did what she needed to do.

Bernie “Combs are the Assholes” Sanders

The senator needed a dominant performance to help make up his gap with Clinton, and he didn’t deliver. He wasn’t bad, and most of his rhetoric remains inspiring even on a debate stage, but he needed to do better. It was a really bad started when he failed to convincingly explain what democratic socialism is. The key was to get people to stop equivocating that ideology with what most Americans, especially older Americans, associate with socialism (ie the USSR/Stalin), and he emphatically failed to do that. It’s not enough to compare it to Scandinavia when a frighteningly large percentage of Americans don’t know if that’s a positive thing or not. Also, saying you aren’t a capitalist and trying to defend that position doesn’t work when you also then try and say you support small businesses. Small private businesses are technically part of capitalism too, even if they’re an increasingly smaller and less important part.

His responses to gun control and foreign policy were mixed. For the only time in the debate, he had to play the political realist when it came to how much gun control you can get through Congress due to his voting record. I mean, he’s right that residents of more rural states are more wary of any form of gun control, but it still probably cost him points in the current climate only a couple weeks after the Umpqua shooting. His foreign policy is generally good, but he did a mediocre job of articulating it during this debate. He seemed a bit too eager to say that he’s willing to use military force later on in the debate after being confronted with more hawkish positions from the other candidates, and it didn’t come off as convincing.

Once the debate turned to financial policy Sanders came alive. His best moment was his “’Congress Doesn’t Regulate Wall Street. Wall Street Regulates Congress” line. He also differentiated himself because he could say that he voted against the Patriot Act, and was able to back up his position against government surveillance.

Sanders’ ideals remain appealing, even if I’m not really sure of the feasibility of his plans to pay for things like free public college. He came across as passionate but not really polished and presidential, despite (or maybe because of) the tame debate hairstyle. He needed to do more. It’s telling that his biggest applause and the thing that is getting the most media coverage today was his defense of Clinton over her email scandal instead of his attacking her over Wall Street.

Martin “Totally Not the Basis of Tommy Carcetti” O’Malley

O’Malley also had a solid debate, looking very polished during most of the night. He started off a little slow with a couple stories that seemed like obvious pandering, but recovered well. His positions were sort of in the middle of Clinton’s and Sanders’, for example switching between supporting Clinton’s call for gun control and agreeing with Sanders that Glass-Steagall should be reintroduced over Clinton’s objections. His only standout moment was his comparison between the Democratic and Republican debates, which has been given a nice response but fails to differentiate him from the other candidates. This probably means he’ll get a few points at most out of the performance.

Jim “Am I at the Right Debate?” Webb

Well that was bad. I mean, really unexpectedly terrible. Nothing to do with his policies, we already knew that he was a very conservative Democrat and he proved it, but in behavior. He used a significant amount of his limited time to whine about his limited time when he wasn’t complaining about China. His answer to the enemy made in your political career question, where he said it was an enemy combatant and then heavily implied he killed him, was bizarre. In terms of entertainment value he was fine, especially when he was sparring with Anderson Cooper over his speaking time. But as a candidate for President of the United States Webb was a disaster.

Lincoln “Running for President Despite Probably Not Being Able to Win Reelection as Governor of Rhode Island” Chafee

Chafee should probably be thankful that he isn’t Jim Webb, although he wasn’t much better. His response to the question about his vote to repeal Glass-Steagall was embarrassing. Otherwise he just seemed happy to be on the stage with the way he kept smiling.

Anderson Cooper

The real winner of the debate. His questions for all the questions were tough and showed a lot of preparation. He was a big improvement over Jake Tapper’s handling of the second Republican debate, but he had to deal with less than half the amount of candidates.

Philadelphia Union Roundup

The Union season ended last Wednesday night. Technically, they weren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs until Saturday, but let’s face it the Open Cup was their only real chance at winning something this year. And they almost did it, but going to penalties in three cup games and expecting to win all of them is foolish. Still, they had their chances when they outplayed Kansas City in the first half, but a one goal lead wasn’t going to be enough since they weren’t going to play that badly in the second half. And they didn’t, and they tied, and it went to penalties. I thought it was the right decision to start Blake; he’s the best overall goalkeeper on the roster and this was the most important game of the season. Not sure if it would have made a difference if he hadn’t been substituted for McCarthy in the penalty shootout.

Sakiewicz is gone. The disastrous handling of the goalkeeper situation (drafting two in the top 3 within four years, then signing M’Bolhi for his absurd salary) was just a sign that the former goalkeeper needed to go. Although, to be fair, at least Blake looks like he’ll be a very good keeper, but then MacMath had moments of potential when he was starting too and now he’s sitting on the bench in Colorado. It looks like Curtain is going to stay. I don’t think Curtain is a quality MLS level coach, not at this point anyway, but I also doubt the Union’s ability to get anyone significantly better. What they do need is a GM/Director that has a cohesive vision for the team that he shares with Curtain or whoever the coach is.

For the past few years the Union have always had a weakspot, and whenever they filled it another one would crop up. Remember when the team was known for its defense but couldn’t score? They spent money trying to fix the forward situation, then the midfield suffered. Now they’ve strengthened the midfield, and the defense is an issue. Hopefully Wenger will finally find his true position at fullback, and Edu will either accept he’s going to be a centerback or leave so we can sign a top (for MLS) quality defender. Really, what the team really needs depth everywhere. They have a decent starting 11 now that Barnetta has replaced the completely ineffective Wenger at winter, but if one of those 11 gets injured the team is in real trouble. And you can’t blame Curtain for using so few substitutions when all of his options aren’t very good.

Have I Reached Peak Music?

Well I guess I should confess that I am starting to get old
All the latest music fads all passed me by and left me cold

-Frank Turner, “Photosynthesis”

A study came out a few months ago that suggested Spotify users slowly stop listening to more mainstream music before they are 25 years old, at which point the process dramatically speeds up before stabilizing at 33. It doesn’t suggest that you stop listening to new music completely at 25 or 33, just that your tastes solidify and you look for either more of the same or go in more esoteric directions. Unfortunately, I’m finding it more accurate for me than I would have hoped five years ago.

I have a list of 86 songs (narrowed down to 75 because I like my song lists in multiples of 25) from the past decade that, basically, I like enough to rank in a list. 37 are from 2010, 18 from 2011, 13 from 2012, 9 from 2013, 4 from 2014, and 5 (so far) from 2015. That means there are more songs from 2010 then 2012-2015 combined. Variety is incredibly lacking; 2/3 of the top 30 are from the same 5 artists.  The top song of on the list only ranks at #81 in my overall list, compared to #28 for the #1 song of the previous decade and #4 for the #1 of the 90s. In terms of albums, I haven’t heard one I’d put in an album list released since 2013. And no album in my personal overall top 100 was released past 2011.

I’ve mostly been listening to songs (sometimes in new and exciting orders) that I know I like recently, just to make sure that I like listening to music. The verdict was that yes, I do still derive enjoyment from organized sounds that I enjoyed before, so that was comforting. I have quite a large music collection, so I could listen for a long time before I exhaust it, although eventually it’ll get smaller as I stop enjoying different music as much as time goes on.

I do miss the thrill of finding a new exceptional song or album. When I signed up for RYM it introduced me to a wealth of albums that I still consider favorites in a very short period of time. But eventually I reached more and more limited returns in my searches. And now the taste of the RYM user base has gone in a different direction from mine, although not in the same way as the rest of the internet. Since my taste is mostly hilariously middlebrow socially awkward 28 year old white male American stuff, part of it is tastemakers trying to diversify what is considered “cool” in music circles that are traditionally dominated by socially awkward 20 something men.  Obviously this lead to websites I previously relied on mostly promoting music that has a lower hit to miss ratio for me.  At least it both opens up resources people with different tastes from mine and gets me to try albums I would otherwise had never thought listening to, but I hope that most of the change is a result of the websites hiring new writers and not the same white guys suddenly deciding they liked Contemporary R&B the whole time.  The real problem is that even when they recommend something new I should like, whether in genres that I enjoy or artists that sound like ones I already like or even new releases from artists whose previous work I enjoy, it doesn’t have any effect on me when I listen to a sample track or two.

You could say the solution would be for me to seek out more music on my own. But significantly more than ninety percent of music is, if not crap, unremarkable and unmemorable. And spending hours listening to mediocrity to find five minutes of pretty good isn’t a particularly valuable use of time (I have done it). Especially when there’s so much music I know I like. So I’ll just listen to what I’ve been… oh dear God. I’m old.