Sunday, October 30, 2005

An interesting experiment

My day job is in television, and I do a bit of freelance work running camera for ESPN and Fox Sports. I often get funny looks when I respond to the question "How was the game?" with "I don't know; I didn't really see it." I now have a way for people to understand how uninteresting the view sometimes is.

TBS airs a game in prime time each Saturday night. On Dish Network, 5 cameras are fed live to the satellite with no editing, or graphics to get in the way: all you have is that camera and whatever the audio mix the main game is receiving. You can hear what is going on, but you only see whatever that camera is shooting. Trust me, it's much less interesting than you think. IN the case of TBS, Saturday's game between Texas and Okie State featured 5 camera feeds: two at field level, one on the goal post, one higher from a corner, and the end zone shot.

If you bounce around the feeds, you discover one constant: one or both coaches is on one camera or another almost every single moment of the game. The director only takes about one sixth of the potential coach shots he could take. You only have to watch a close-up of a receiver blocking a defensive back on a running play two or three times before the charm of "watching the camera you want" wears off. I would like to line up six monitors, put the "Game" in one and these other 5 options in the others and use it as a class for the casual fan. To have the headset traffic from the truck going out would be even better.

That would be true entertainment.



As I drove back home after a weekend out of town, I contemplated what dimissive headline the Register would conceive to minimize ISU's thrashing of a$m in College Station. "A&M AWOL" was the best I could arrive at.

It is sport among Cyclone fans to dream up Register headlines that pick out any downside of ISU success. Perhaps "ISU survives big plays" would have been apt for Saturday, with one Aggie TD scored on a long run, and another called back by a holding penalty. The Rag often finds a way to downplay the big moments in Cyclone Nation while pumping up every tiny glimmer of hope from Iowa City. A win over a last place team by Iowa is a "Crushing"; the same win in Ames is "workmanlike". A close loss to a better team "Valiant" for one; "Horrific" the other.

So imagine my surprise at the positive spin Saturday's win received. "Historic" read the headline, the copy even more glowing, accurately reflecting the dismantling of a team some had thought was a darkhorse in the league. How fun to read about the same game you watched on TV.

Perhaps a play on "Silent Killers" would have been appropriate given the way normally boisterous Kyle Field fell silent as the margin grew bigger. Most of the fans left late in the third quarter. When your fans are making more noise than the home team, you know you have done your job.

The win does make one wonder just how good this team can be, since we have witness how bad- most of Illinois State, the first half against Army, the second half against Baylor, the last 10 minutes versus Mizzou- the team is capable of playing. But we should all step back and enjoy the moment: 8 solid quarters of football against two South teams that dominated ISU on both sides of the ball just last season. Two complete games with little to turn the nose up at. A team on a losing streak coming to Ames this week, and the North leader on the horizon. Potential abounds, still. One can even contemplate a bowl trip to a town other than Shreveport. Happy day, happy day.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

For once, a fourth quarter breather

It has been a tough few weeks for Cyclone fan. Saturday's 37-10 win over Okie State at least gave ISU fans a relaxed fourth quarter for a change.

Most of it came from OSU's five turnovers, but who is to quibble? They won a game they had to and should have won. They flexed some defensive muscle. They passed the ball well. It was all a bit of a relief, even after some early nervousness when OSU took a 10-7 lead. But when you have found a way to lose your last three, any win is a good win.

So now ISU starts another frantic run towards bowl eligibility, but none of the four remaining games are gimmies. A road trip to a$m is a likely loss given history, and home games against KSU and CU will be challenges. On paper, the best matchup for ISU, at KU to end the season, could be a trap. The Cylones could win all four. They could also lose all four, and I would be surprised by neither circumstance.

The sooner they get two, the better we will all feel.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bad teams, take 3

Everything I stated in my last post still holds true. Bad teams find a way to lose. Iowa State fans have been witness to the maxim for more than 100 football seasons.

The only bright spot to come from the three losses is the chance to chant the Cyclone Classic Cheer: "Wait 'till basketball! Wait 'till basketball!" (like Nebraska cares).

One glimmer of hope: ISU has left on it's schedule three teams that rank below it on the current Sagarin rankings: OSU this week, K State and Kansas, who has an amazingly motionless offense and will probably fire their coach at the end of the year. Win all three, and they get another bowl trip, and opponent the can beat and the three weeks of practice to work on next season. That's the goal now. Anything more is gravy.

It was ironic that during the loss to Baylor the ISU marketing department began running their TV ads for the coming hoops season. The men's team has a great slogan: "I Will". Taken to heart, it should encourage each player to play his role, do his job, win some games. When a team has some filthy talent like Stinson, it is natural to begin to stand around and wait for him to make the play to save the day. There were moments during Jamaal Tinsley's senior year that this happened. Hopefully Wayne can get his crew to avoid these lapses at critical moments.

It is that slogan that seems to be lacking in the football team at the moment. When the key opportunity presents itself, the football player just can't catch the pass, grab the fumble cleanly, or score without fumbling. One play in each loss would have resulted in a probable win, and ISU is getting BCS buzz. Instead, they are hanging on for dear life.

A game of inches indeed.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bad teams find a way to lose

It was appropriate that the worst and third worst B12 teams (from the perspective of all time conference records) met in Ames, both coming off OT road losses to their nearest conference rival. Each team had plenty of chances to win last week, both each found the way to lose. The Baylor-Iowa State matchup resulted in less one team winning, more the other team finding a way to lose.

Each program has historically struggled to win games in the league. Near misses were always punctuated by the blown play, the dropped pass, the defensive stop gone aray. ISU had the opportunity to put Baylor on the ropes, but fumbled. A fine scoring drive died on another fumble. Baylor eventually sealed the game by converting late first downs on bad defensive assignments.

Like last week at Nebraska, ISU had chances to win late, and failed on every opportunity. Today, the Cyclones again failed when opportunity knocked. ISU, despite easily moving the ball most of the day, found the way to lose.

Which means the Cyclones are now at a crossroads. Each of their remaining games is winnable, on paper. Each game is also, on paper, loseable. Three wins gets a bowl bid, more a nicer bowl bid. But this team's lack of playmakers makes even three wins a reach. The season is at a crossroads, with no gimmies in sight.

ISU was Baylor's fist B12 win back in '96. They are now BU's first conference road win. The Bears appear willing to toss the designation of "Doormat" on someone else. Hopefully the Cyclones make the plays to avoid that tag.