PAC-10 ROCKS; CAL QBS; A-ROD, DRUGS
by Glenn Dickey
Nov 07, 2007

THE SEC IS generally regarded as the best college football conference, and the Pac-10 may be the second-best. The two coaches in Saturday’s Big Game, USC’s Pete Carroll and Cal’s Jeff Tedford, would agree with that.

“I’ve always said that our toughest games are in the conference,” said Carroll in a conference call to the Cal media luncheon on Tuesday. This year, the Trojans’ two losses are in the conference – the shocker to Stanford and a close loss to Oregon two weeks ago. They’re 3-0 outside the conference, including road wins at Nebraska (49-31) and Notre Dame (38-0).

“Every week is a battle,” said Tedford. “Nothing is easy. To go undefeated in this conference would be very difficult just because there is so much parity.”

That’s the way it’s been in the SEC for years, with teams taking turns in knocking each other off, and that’s the way it’s become in the Pac-10 this year.

There is no team with an unblemished conference record. Oregon, whose only loss was to Cal, ended Arizona State’s undefeated season last Saturday. All of Cal’s three losses have come within the conference, while they’ve gone 3-0, including the season-opening win over Tennessee, in nonconference games.

There seem to be upsets every week, though the Stanford win over USC will unquestionably rank as the biggest at the end of the season. Cal was favored in the first two of its losses. UCLA has been a yo-yo team all year, at its very best in beating the Bears but falling to lowly Washington State the next week.

The other extreme is the Big Ten, which continues to be rated by the polls and the computers on the basis of its past, not its present.

Remember last year with the talk during the season that the Ohio State-Michigan game would be the real national championship game? Turned out that it was only for the Big Ten title. Both teams were routed in bowl games, Ohio State in the national championship game, where in retrospect, it clearly did not belong.

What often happens in the Big Ten is that top teams play nobodies in their interconference games and then beat up the rest of the conference, so they’re overrated in the polls. That’s happening again with Ohio State, which is No. 1 in the polls and will probably stay there until the Buckeyes get beaten soundly in a bowl game.

The only Big Ten team with a chance to beat Ohio State is again Michigan, but the Wolverines began the season with a shocking upset loss to Appalachian State and a thorough beating at the hands of Oregon in the Wolverines home stadium at Ann Arbor. Hard to take them seriously as a top team, no matter how many conference patsies they beat.

There’s long been an East Coast/Midwest bias in college football, partly because there’s so much more population and media in those areas and partly because west coast games are later, especially with the ridiculous 7 p.m. TV starts that are popping up. But even the biased observers should be starting to take notice of the Pac-10 results.

CAL QBS: The fact that Tedford is sticking with Nate Longshore has led some to compare it to 2005, when he stuck with Joe Ayoob until just before the Big Game, but the two situations are not really comparable.

In 2005, remember, Longshore was Tedford’s original choice, but he broke his leg in the first game. Ayoob had undeniable talent but the pressure on him, much of it self-inflicted, destroyed his confidence. Tedford’s only alternative was Steve Levy and, though the Bears won the Big Game and Las Vegas Bowl with Levy, he was a very limited quarterback.

This year, Tedford has a much better alternative, talented redshirt freshman Kevin Riley. I plan to write more about this in my Friday Examiner column.

A-ROD MARKET?

When Alex Rodriguez opted out of his Yankee contract, which would have paid him $27 million a year for the last three years, agent Scott Boras said the floor for bidding on a new contract would be $350 million for 10 years.

Good luck in that. I think Boras and A-Rod will have less luck than Boras and Barry Bonds had after the 2001 season. Bonds had played out his first contract with the Giants and Boras declared that the floor for bidding on his new contract would be $20 million. Turned out that wasn’t even the ceiling. The Giants were the only ones who bid for Bonds and they offered $18 million a year only because they thought a lower offer would be insulting to Bonds. The Giants certainly got their money’s worth, not just on the field but at the box office. Even when they fell out of serious contention, Bonds still drew the fans.

Though Rodriguez seems on his way to breaking the career home run record that Bonds just set, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll get what Boras is seeking. He probably won’t even get a contract as good as the one he just opted out of.

The usual big spenders – the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets – don’t want Rodriguez, for differing reasons. The Giants are sometimes mentioned as a possibility but, though they’ve certainly overspent for players in recent years, it’s hard to see them going for A-Rod. They need several players, not just one good one; teams would pitch around Rodriguez just as they did with Bonds. And with Barry Zito’s contract committing them to at least $18 million a year, they’d be tying up a tremendous amount of money in two players.

DRUG FOOLISHNESS: The moral police, as exemplified by my former employer, got another chance to cluck, cluck at drug use with the release of three more names of players using banned drugs from the Florida laboratory.

One of the players was Matt Williams, who always seemed like the straightest of arrows when he was with the Giants. As more names are revealed, it’s going to be harder for the moralists to pretend that only bad people are taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The truth is, it’s impossible to stop athletes from doing anything they think will help them be better performers, and when you get to the major league level in any sport, the pressure to take drugs is overwhelming. It has nothing to do with morality – or cheating, as the moralists prefer to label it.

The hypocrisy in baseball is not the pretense that players weren’t taking these drugs before 2000 but in the current pretense, pushed by many in the national media, that the new policy is actually promoting a “cleaner” game. I suspect we’ll find that more players are taking drugs than 10 years ago, not fewer.

And, frankly, it doesn’t make any difference. If pitchers and hitters are both taking drugs, as they certainly are, who has the advantage? If these drugs were legalized, it would be better for the athletes because the results of their drug use could be monitored, to see if extended use really does cause problems. All we've got now is unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence. People still bring up Lyle Alzado and Ken Camminiti, but Alzado’s doctor said his brain tumor was not caused by steroids – as Alzado had claimed - and Camminiti’s death was ultimately declared to be the result of a cocaine overdose.

But even this is nowhere near as bad as Martina Hingis’s forced retirement from tennis because she allegedly tested positive for cocaine before a match at Wimbledon in June.

Hingis vehemently denied ever taking cocaine but at 27, she said she didn’t have time to spend two years fighting it. If the drug test produced false results, it would hardly be a huge surprise. But the bigger question is: Why were they even testing for cocaine? Did they also test for wine, beer and liquor?

My personal view is that anybody who takes any of these socalled recreational drugs is suicidal. I have never taken any of them, nor LSD when it was popular. I’ve never even smoked marijuana. My drug of choice is alcohol, and exclusively wine for the past 20 years or so.

But that should be a matter of choice for athletes, not something they should be tested for. An individual like Hingis doesn’t have the time to fight the drug-testers, but the athletes’ professional associations should take them to court.

BIG VINNY RIDES: Rich Lieberman, of TV commercial fame, will be a special guest on the Nov. 18 49ers Playbook on Channel 2, before the 49ers-Rams game. He’ll also soon by doing special commentaries soon on KTRB, AM 860, the station which is negotiating to do A’s games next season.

MUST-SEE TV? The Raiders-Texans game last Sunday was probably watched by fewer people than any NFL game for years. The “crowd” at the Coliseum was not much more than half the stadium capacity, and I’m guessing that many people who had tickets stayed home to watch the Patriots-Colts on TV. The game was blacked out locally, of course, and almost certainly not picked up by anyone outside the Houston market.

The game lived down to expectations. The Raider highlights came when Sebastian Janikowski’s field goal attempt from what would have been an NFL record 64 yards hit the right goalpost, and when Shane Lechler boomed two punts 63 and 65 yards. When your kickers are your stars, it says all you want to know about your team.

The 49ers are no better, of course. Though Cal’s season turned disappointing with three straight losses, the Bears are almost certain to finish with more wins than the 49ers and Raiders combined. Even Stanford has more wins that either team.

The networks knew the Raiders would be bad, so they weren’t scheduled for any prime-time games. The 49ers surprised everybody with their awfulness and they opened on a Monday night and have another Monday night game next week against the Seahawks in Seattle. But the networks have more flexibility on late season games, so you can expected the Niners Dec. 23rd game against Tampa Bay, now scheduled for 5:15, to be changed to a 1:15 start.


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