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Archive for July, 2009

ElViento: Before I get started, I will freely admit that I have not closely followed the Plaxico Burress case, and I am by no means any sort of expert on the American legal system. Still, when I saw the comment made by the District Attorney in the Burress case, a comment that flew largely under the radar, I was disturbed. DA Robert Morgenthau said of Burress, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of possession of an unlicensed gun, “We’ve always taken the position that he’s going to have to go to jail, whether by trial, or by plea.” (Source)

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The saying, attributed by most to George Santayana, has been quoted and re-quoted to the point of becoming cliché, but there’s a good reason behind that. It’s a true statement.

The National District Attorneys Association explains that one of the major job expectations of a DA is to “ensure that justice is done and the public safety and rights of all are safeguarded.” (Source) It is an important quality that a DA be concerned with finding justice instead of simply attempting to win a case. Imagine being a defendant without the financial ability to hire a big-time lawyer, and going up against a DA that didn’t care if you were guilty or not, but simply wanted to win. This nightmare has been a reality for more Americans than we would like to admit. The Innocence Project, John Grisham’s The Innocent Man, and myriad other sources have made this much clear.

The reason that DAs are so eager to convict, regardless of the facts of the case, is that their jobs literally depend on it. A DA with a low conviction rate is likely to be voted out of office. Even more important to a DA’s job security is to earn a conviction in a publicized case involving a celebrity defendant, which has lead to DAs becoming ever more overly-aggressive in prosecuting innocent individuals. Prominent examples of this can be seen in the sports world.

In 2005, Genarlow Wilson, a star high school football player and local celebrity from Douglasville, Georgia, was convicted of aggravated child molestation. He was 17-years old, and received oral sex from a willing 15-year old girl. Although it is only a misdemeanor for two minors to have sex in Georgia, a baffling, little-used clause in the law makes it a felony for two minors to engage in oral sex. Seizing upon an opportunity to prosecute a celebrity and get his name in the papers, DA Eddie Barker charged Wilson with aggravated child molestation and rape, getting a conviction on the former. The law was soon changed to close up the oral sex loophole, but the law was not made retroactive, so Wilson remained in jail. Eventually, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Wilson’s jail sentence was cruel and unusual, leading to Wilson’s release, but not before a promising football career was derailed (Wilson, a great student, had been recruited by Ivy League schools), and a man who hadn’t truly done anything wrong spent over two years in jail, solely because he had the misfortune of being locally famous. (Source)

duke lacrosse trioThe Falsely Accused Duke Players (from left: Seligmann, Evans, Finnerty)

When it comes to questions about prosecutor ethics, it’s impossible not to bring up case of a female stripper falsely accusing three Duke Lacrosse players of gang rape. The case was eventually proved to be a complete fraud and Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was disbarred and prosecuted for withholding evidence during the case. It was shown that Nifong and Durham PD investigators ignored constant changes in the accuser’s story and violated a myriad of police procedure in the identification of Dave Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty. But most importantly, it took some major sleuthing from Evans attorney Brad Bannon to realize that the complete lack of DNA evidence connecting 3 players… was omitted and covered up by order of Nifong. Sadly, the all-out media attack on the Duke players was so pervasive that they may never have their good names back, despite being declared innocent by the North Carolina state DA Roy Cooper. They weren’t declared not guilty, which would have simply meant that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute them, they were declared innocent. However, one might wonder what would have happened in the Duke case if the players hadn’t had such talented, highly-paid lawyers. Well, the curious didn’t have to wait long to get an answer to that question. (For a fantastically written, detailed account of the Duke lacrosse rape case, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you read Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, by Stuart Taylor Jr., and KC Johnson.)

Eric Frimpong was a soccer star for UC-Santa Barbara. Born in Ghana, he came to the United States on an athletic scholarship, and helped lead his school to its first national championship. He was drafted into the MLS. Earlier this year, Frimpong was accused of rape. Like the Duke players, the charges were transparently false. Frimpong’s DNA was found nowhere on the victim, whose blood-alcohol level was “nearly toxic”. There was no trace of the victim’s DNA on Frimpong. The semen of an admittedly “jealous” boyfriend was found on the victim, who admits being somewhat hazy on exactly what happened the night she was raped, and that “huge chunks” of her memory of what happened are missing. Like the Duke lacrosse players, the charges were brought and pursued by an overzealous prosecutor, Mary Barron, eager to go after a local celebrity and get her name in the papers, facts be damned. Unlike the Duke case, Frimpong was not affluent and capable of hiring top-flight lawyers. He was an immigrant who relied on funds raised by friends and teammates to hire a defense which was clearly overmatched by the all-out attack brought by the District Attorney’s office. Instead of pursuing justice, the DA’s office got a “win”, a conviction. And so an innocent Frimpong sits in jail, having been convicted of rape and sentenced to six years imprisonment. (Source)

What does all this have to do with Plaxico Burress? It seems apparent that Burress shot himself with his own gun, which he was not licensed to own. However, the District Attorney’s comments, “We’ve always taken the position that he’s going to have to go to jail”, suggest that we have learned nothing from the celebrity sports trials of the recent past. If multiple contemporary, obvious examples of prosecutorial misconduct don’t lead us to conclude that a DA should be pursuing justice instead of predetermining what a defendant’s fate should be, and trying the case through the media, well, then we haven’t learned anything from the past, and I fear we are doomed to repeat it. If an overzealous prosecutor can railroad three demonstrably innocent lacrosse players, or put a demonstrably innocent man like Frimpong behind bars, and we are not inspired in the least to curb prosecutorial misconduct in even the well-publicized cases, what chance does a layperson have of receiving a fair trial, if the DA’s attention should happen to shift to them?

The real world is not Law & Order. Not every defendant is a guilty bad-guy, pursued by the well-intentioned good guys. Innocent until proven guilty ought to mean something again, if not to the media and the public, then at least to the district attorney.

(Thanks to SarCoog for the help on this article.)

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SarCoog: Thankfully yesterday former Green Bay Packer and New York Jet Brett Favre announced his retirement, thus putting to rest any ideas that he might come back as a Minnesota Viking. This allows former Houston Texan and a personal favorite of mine, Sage Rosenfels, to get a fair shot as the Vikings’ starting QB.

I’m glad this crap is over, but I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever get to use the below photo again:

favre drama queen

God I hope so…

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ball state cardinals75.) Ball State (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 12-2 (8-0 MAC)

Overview: Anything that happens this year for the Ball State program is going to be a let down after a magical ’08 campaign which saw the Cardinals rattle off a 12-0 regular season and an appearance in the conference championship game. Sure the 42-24 loss to Buffalo in the title game was disappointing and the shellacking the Cards received in the GMAC Bowl at the hands of Tulsa was disappointing as well. However it’s worth noting that they were ranked as high as #12 in the country and spent more than half the season in the top 25 polls, while getting national attention along the way. Most non-BCS programs (my Houston Cougars included) would love to have a season like that. Former coach Brady Hoke left Muncie for the same position at San Diego State, but OC Stan Parrish has taken over and the BSU faithful hope the continuity will lead to more success.

It’s going to be tough to replace the production of former QB Nate Davis who threw for 3,591 yards and 26 TDs last year before declaring for the NFL draft. Davis leaves BSU as the program’s all-time leading passer (9,233 yards) by a wide margin. But the team does have redshirt freshman Kelly Page as an anointed successor. Page comes to the Cardinals by way of Mesquite, Texas and seems to have locked the job up for the coming year. The key to the offensive success will be senior RB MiQuale Lewis (1,736 rushing yards, 5.4 yards/carry, 22 TD) who was the top back in the MAC last year and#5 in the country in rushing yards per game. But Lewis is going to need to stay healthy and avoid the injuries that cost him much of the ’06 and ’07 seasons. Another guy worth keeping an eye on is diminutive speedster sophomore Cory Sykes (428 yards, 5.5 yards/carry, 3 TD) who should spell Lewis at times. The receiving corps lost its #2 and #3 all-time receivers in Dante Love and Darius Hill, but sophomore Briggs Osborn (68 receptions, 813 yards, 5 TD) returns after leading the team in receptions and yards last year. Another returnee is senior TE Madaris Grant (26 receptions, 285 yards) who could see more of a role in the offense. The biggest issues will come on the offensive line, where the Cardinals lose three 1st team All-MAC selections and four previous starters. The only returning guy is junior OG Michael Switzer, who’ll be starting his 3rd consecutive season at the left guard position. Sophomore C Kreg Hunter started 4 games last year at right guard and will move to center this fall. If the line can keep the QB Page upright and open up holes for Lewis, the Cardinals should still have one of the best offenses in the MAC.

Whereas the Cards offense carried the team last year, it’ll but up to the boys on defense to win games in the coming season. The defensive line returns all four upperclassman starters, including senior DE Brandon Crawford (31 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks) who was a 2nd team All-MAC selection in ’08. Other returning starters are junior DE Robert Eddins (45 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks) and junior DT Rene Perry (20 tackles, 5 TFL). The linebacking corps is considerably less experienced, with junior Davyd Jones (85 tackles, 12 TFL, 2 sacks) being the only returning starter there. However the secondary is more experienced and has the top two returning tacklers. Sophomore SS Sean Baker (94 tackles, 4 TFL, 6 INT) was the MAC freshman of the year and was tied for most interceptions in the conference. The top tackler last year: senior FS Alex Knipp (96 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT) returns and will be entering his second year as a full-time starter. It’s worth noting that the Cardinals have to replace a pair of All-MAC corners: B.J. Hill and Trey Lewis. Overall the Cardinal defense is still one of the better units in the MAC, but will probably see at least a small decline in production this year.

Reasons for Optimism: Has there ever been a better time to be a Ball State football fan? Although I am still relatively ‘green’ when it comes to college football experiences, the two things I thought of when it came to Ball State before last season were: David Letterman and the 21 game losing streak. But the Cardinals have gone to bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. There’s also a relatively easy non-conference schedule that could help the Cardinals go back for their 3rd straight bowl. Finally, if the offensive line gets it together then the Cards will be able to give the ball to the best back in the conference: MiQuale Lewis.

Reasons for Pessimism: I realize that Stan Parrish was hired to avoid a rough transition to a new head coach, but he hasn’t run a program in over 20 years. While Parrish was a part of the turnaround of the Marshall program in the mid-1980s, he also led Kansas State to a 2-30-1 record in three years as head coach there. It’s near impossible to replace a QB like Nate Davis and the Cardinals will have to break in a guy who’s never taken a college snap, behind a very inexperienced offensive line. The success of this offense seems to be based on MiQuale Lewis staying healthy, which is not a given… if the past has taught us anything.

Season Prediction: If nothing else the non-conference schedule is generally easy enough so as to allow the Cardinals to start MAC play with a 3-1 record. There is something really wrong with this team if they can’t take care of business against 2 of the worst teams in the nation (Army, North Texas) and a Division 1-FCS team (New Hampshire). The MAC schedule does feature road trips to Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Temple who all look like bowl teams in ’09. Also home games against Ohio and Central Michigan will prove to be big challenges. I think the Cardinals will be in the hunt for the MAC East crown and win either 7 or 8 games this coming fall. It may be a step back, but I doubt the record would be much different if Coach Hoke was still running the show in Muncie.

Top Web Destination: BSU Fans

maryland terrapins74.) Maryland (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 8-5 (4-4 ACC)

Overview: The first few years of Ralph Friedgen‘s tenure as head coach were quite successful, but things have been a little leaner during recent seasons in College Park. The results have never been ‘bad’ per se, but some have wondered if the Terps program has stagnated after Friedgen won 31 games in first 3 seasons. Last season started on a rough note, with a squeaker against D1-FCS Delaware and a 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee State. But they did have wins over top 25 teams like Cal, Clemson, Wake Forest and North Carolina… along with a flummoxing 31-0 loss to Virginia.

The Terps do return their #1 signal caller from last season, senior Chris Turner (214-374, 2,516 yards, 13 TD, 11 INT), is back and could be improved after a full season as the starter under his belt. Turner will be asked mainly to manage the game and not make too many mistakes in the Terps’ offense. Returning in the backfield is junior Da’Rel Scott (1,133 rushing yards, 5.4 yards/carry, 8 TD) who was a 1st team All-ACC selection last year and the #2 back sophomore Davin Meggett (457 rushing yards, 5.1 yards/carry, 4 TD) also returns. The biggest loss on the team is leading receiver Darius Heyward-Bey, who was picked7th overall in the NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders. Other big losses are WR Danny Oquendo and TE Dan Gronkowski. The top returning receiver is sophomore Torrey Smith (24 receptions, 336 receiving yards, 2 TD) who started 6 games as a redshirt freshman last season. Another area hit hard by graduation was the offensive line, where the Terps lost 4 multi-year starters and the returning guys have combined for only 27 starts (thanks for the fun fact Phil Steele). Junior OT Bruce Campbell started 7 games last year and senior C Phil Costa has started 19 games total at guard, while moving to center during spring drills. The Terps have an experienced QB and backs, but they’ll struggle at times because they’re so inexperienced up front.

There will also be a challenge on the defensive side of the ball, where only 4 starters, along with 1 of the top 6 tacklers return and the defensive line and linebackers are less experienced. Senior DT Travis Ivey (26 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack) is the most experienced lineman and started 4 games in an injury-plagued junior campaign. Also, sophomore NT Dion Armstrong (22 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) started 3 games in ’08 and senior Jared Harrell (17 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks) will be the full time starter at the ‘Anchor’ position (a pass rushing DE). The Terps lose 2 starters in the linebacking corps, but return tackling machine junior Alex Wujciak (133 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack) who was a 2nd team All-ACC selection last year. Another guy who has some experience is junior Adrian Moten (24 tackles, 1.5 sacks) who missed some time in ’08 due to a wrist injury. Really, the only unit that could be improved is the Terps secondary. Senior FS Terrell Skinner (63 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT) is the #2 returning tackler and senior SS Jamari McCollough (37 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT) led the team in interceptions last season. In total, all the projected starters in the Terps secondary should have at least some amount of starting experience. I’ll be interested to see how new DC Don Brown does with this unit after serving as the head coach at UMass for the last 5 seasons (43-19 overall record at UMass).

Reasons for Optimism: In his third year as a starter, Chris Turner could be poised for a successful senior campaign and may be ready to do more than simply ‘manage’ the game. Also, Da’Rel Scott is one of the best backs in the ACC and is a go-to guy in an offense that has a fair number of question marks. With the exception of Turner, all the Terps’ skill guys are underclassmen and that could pay dividends down the road as these young guys get valuable experience. I think Don Brown could be a great DC and his defenses at UMass were among the better units in Division 1-FCS.

Reasons for Pessimism: The Terps not only lost a large number of starters, but also a little under half of all their lettermen from last season. The key to successful offense is typically an experienced offensive line and the Terps have only a few guys with significant in game experience. It won’t matter how good Chris Turner and Da’Rel Scott play if Turner is lying on his back half the time and Scott can’t find a hole to run through. It’s an inexperienced offense and that doesn’t bode well, since Friedgen’s teams haven’t been great on offense since the 2003 season. On defense the front seven only returns a couple guys with starting experience and that doesn’t bode well for a rushing defense that finished 71st in the nation last year.

Season Prediction: There have been instances where teams chock full of newcomers have performed higher than the expectations and surprised the college football world. I don’t think this is one of those instances. The last 2 times the Terps returned 10 or fewer starters (2004 and ’05) they finished with a losing record. The non-conference schedule features a Division 1-FCS cupcake (James Madison) and Middle Tennessee State. I think those two games are wins, but the Terps shouldn’t take the MTSU game for granted after last year’s upset. Rutgers could be a pre-season top 25 team, but the Terps are 24-2 recently against non-conference opponents (thanks again Phil Steele). The Terps will have to play potential toss-up games on the road against UNC, Wake Forest and Duke, with tough road trips to Cal (in non-conference) and Florida State. I’m predicting a 5-7 season for the Terps and Friedgen may just decide to call it a career with OC James Franklin waiting in the wings to take over as head man.

Top Web Destinations: Turtle Sports Report or Inside MD Sports

hawaii warriors73.) Hawaii (written by ElViento)

’08 Record: 7-7 (5-3 WAC)

Overview: Minstrels have written myriad songs about June Jones, and his taking Hawaii from a winless season in 1998 to a 9-win season in ’99, the biggest turnaround in NCAA history. So, too, have they waxed poetic about Jones’s success with the Run & Shoot offense (originally pioneered by Mouse Davis and others), and the gaudy numbers put up by quarterbacks such as Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan under his tutelage. (The former should not be confused with this…we’re talking about a record-breaking college QB, not a purveyor of delicious, MSG-filled foods, okay? Okay.)

The Jones reign at Hawaii reached its peak at the end of the 2007 regular season. The Warriors were 12-0, WAC champs, with debate raging as to exactly which BCS bowl the team belonged in. The program was at its peak, but then came harsh reality. Hawaii didn’t look like it belonged on the same field as Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, ultimately losing 41-10. After the season, Jones left the Hawaii program, citing lack of support and broken promises from the University, despite a huge public outpouring of support that reached as high as the governor’s office.

Here’s guessing that those minstrels won’t be writing about Jones’s Mustangs not beating a single Division 1-A team in his first year at SMU. (Their sole win came despite giving up 36 points to Texas State.) Back on the islands, the drop-off from the departures of Jones, Brennan and a shocking number of senior contributors from the Warrior program didn’t have nearly the adverse effects that many expected. No, the team didn’t win double-digit games or go to a BCS bowl, but first-year head coach Greg McMackin (promoted from the defensive coordinator position) deserves a lot of credit for getting seven wins out of a team that returned just four starters on either side of the ball.

The defense was only marginally worse in McMackin’s first year as “The Guy”, but it was the offense which suffered a serious downturn. Hawaii per-game scoring dropped nearly 20 points (!!) from 43.4 to 24.6. The team twice did something it had not done since 2004: managed only single-digit points in a game. Passing yards per game fell from 439 to 251. Pass completion percentage fell 10 points. Hawaii gave up (a nearly NCAA-record) 57 sacks, 22 more than the previous season. Still, the offense was not without silver linings, most notably the second-half emergence of QB Greg Alexander.

Inoke Funaki (moved to RB) and Tyler Graunke (graduated) got some time under center early on, but it was Alexander who ultimately won the job. He made his second start of the year against Nevada, throwing for 205 yards, no picks, and two fourth-quarter TDs, including a last-second 24-yard score to Malcolm Lane to seal the win. He ended the season with impressive numbers: 154-245 (62.9%), 1,895 yards, 14 TD, 5 INT. Most importantly, Hawaii went 4-2 in his last six regular season starts.

Reasons for Optimism: The offense figures to be much improved in year two of the HC McMackin/offensive coordinator Ron Lee era. Alexander is back for his senior season, and the running game, which features a healthy stable of backs to choose from, might again become the compliment to the passing game that it hasn’t been for the last two years. While a number of backs figure to see time, former Nebraska transfer Leon Wright-Jackson looks like he’ll be the starter. Hawaii was 4-2 in 2008 when rushing for 100+ yards as a team, and 1-5 when rushing for 60 yards or fewer, so don’t underestimate the importance of the Warrior running game.

The receiving corps looks solid, as well, with Greg Salas (57 rec, 831 yards, 3 TD) and Lane (35 rec, 613 yards, 6 TD) back. Junior Oahu native Kealoha Pilares (246 yards, 2 TD) is a candidate for a potential breakout season.

The offensive line…well, can’t get much worse than last year, can it? Fifty-seven sacks is a lot. Senior John Estes anchors the line from the Center position, having started all 41 games of his collegiate career. Apart from him, I’m not sure having anyone else return from last year’s O-line would be a good thing. Hawaii’s spring prospectus projects a starting line which would feature four seniors and a junior, and an average weight of around 305. That, plus common sense, points to improved production from the O-line. Especially if Yorba Linda, CA native Austin Hansen (woot!) sees some time on the field.

Reasons for Pessimism: I can sum up the major reason for pessimism this year for Hawaii in one word: defense. The breakdown of Hawaii players who have started a game on defense in their division-1 collegiate careers is as follows: John Fonoti, DE (14); Brashton Satele, LB (8); R.J. Kiesel-Kauhane, LB (4); Vaughn Meatoga, DT (2). Fonoti and Satele are both solid-looking college football players, but two guys can only lead a defense so far. Hopefully former Oregon State transfer and native Hawaiian Mana Silva can step up and lead the nation’s most inexperienced secondary from the safety position.

The improvement shown by the defense from 2005 to 2006 was very impressive, as the Warriors saw points allowed drop from 35.7 to 24.1. The last two years have showed slow regression, however, and with the lack of experience on D, this year figures to be more of the same. McMackin (who has heavily emphasized recruiting speed on defense) pretty clearly knows what he’s doing, and will eventually have this unit looking better, but Jones left the team rather bereft of talent on the “other” side of the ball. (This should sound awfully familiar to Cougar fans, and the situation currently facing Kevin Sumlin and DC John Skladany in the wake of the departure of some Baylor coach whose name I can’t recall.)

If second-year DC Cal Lee (brother of Hawaii’s OC) can guide a unit that holds opponents under 30 points per game, well actually, that might just be a function of playing one of the weakest schedules in the nation. But he’d still deserve to win some awards in that scenario, as would McMackin.

Season Prediction: Hawaii fans can expect to see something along the lines of their 2003-2005 era teams in 2009. The offense will put up very solid, if not eye-popping numbers, the defense will struggle, and the Warriors will win 4-5 WAC games and be fun to watch. The non-conference schedule is tough to gauge, with winnable road games (Washington State, UNLV) early, and tough home games (Navy, Wisconsin) late. I see Hawaii as a 6-7 win team (out of 13 regular season games) on the bubble for bowl eligibility. With one of the biggest home field advantages in the WAC – stemming from the travel time to Hawaii, and a home crowd that opponents (Houston Cougar fans who made the ’03 Hawaii Bowl trip included) love to hate – don’t be surprised if this team upsets someone like Boise State or Wisconsin at home.

Top Web Destination: Warrior Sports Network or Sports Hawaii

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Enlightenment

Writer’s note: This blog entry is only vaguely sports-related. Consider yourself warned. I wrote the following around ten months ago. I didn’t write it with any particular audience, speaking to a listener who was likely intended to be myself. However, with the college sporting season fast approaching, I realize that this is something I need to keep in mind more than ever. And maybe it can help you, too.

ElViento: I achieved enlightenment the other day, if only for a moment. But that moment was enough to teach me a significant lesson, although admittedly it is a lesson that I have learned before, forgotten, and re-learned. It is a lesson that I will forget again, and re-learn many more times. The lesson is: I am an idiot.

My girlfriend, Kristin, and I were heading to a high school football game. We had just left my apartment, and from behind the steering wheel of my Volvo, I was getting more and more agitated as I tried to negotiate a left turn from a small, residential street onto a large, busy street. I had been sitting there for two or three minutes, muttering obscenities at the mid-day traffic under my breath, when the driver of the blue SUV behind me steered through the narrow space between the right side of my car and the curb, pulled ahead, and stopped his car about four feet ahead of mine. With this huge hunk of metal directly to my right, it became impossible for me to attempt to pull out, as I was unable to check for any oncoming traffic from that direction. Another minute or two passed, as I assumed that the driver of the SUV was attempting to make a right turn, with no success. Then something astonishing happened. There was a brief break in the traffic, and the driver of the SUV made a left turn, around my Volvo. Using much colorful language, I told Kristin (and I stand by this assessment) that it was the single rudest act I have ever seen any driver ever perpetrate. And the majority of the driving that I have done in my life has taken place in California, so that’s quite a statement.

How was I to react? I got even angrier. About 30 seconds later I spotted the briefest of windows to make my move, and I sped off, following the driver of the blue SUV. I drove like a bat out of hell, weaving in and out of traffic with no regard for the speed limit, and eventually caught up to the SUV. I cut him off, slammed on my brakes, and as he changed lanes to pull around me, I rolled down my window and gave him an earsplitting evaluation of his driving abilities.

I drove off, feeling the validation that can only come from the supreme confidence in the righteousness of one’s indignation. A moment later, I looked at Kristin and suggested, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s not let that guy ruin our day.” I marveled at my own maturity. I felt only slightly discouraged when, mere moments later, Kristin laughingly, rhetorically asked me what I was worried about, my sour expression revealing that I had continued to let the bad driver ruin my evening.

We continued on to the game, arriving fifteen minutes late thanks to the detour I took when I decided to follow the driver of the SUV. We sat and watched the game next to Kristin’s mother, and watched her twin brothers perform at halftime with the school band. Afterwards, we headed back up towards my apartment. I somehow nearly missed what a perfect moment it should have been, driving under the night sky, holding Kristin’s hand, listening to music we both enjoyed. I was aware of all of the elements that made this drive special, but for some reason, I did not truly appreciate them. Perhaps it was my road rage incident still bothering me; perhaps it was the routine nature of it all that caused me to miss the forest for the trees.

My grip on Kristin’s hand tightened, as a song titled Yesterdays came on my stereo. The lyrics are a narrative of the singer’s experience attending a friend’s funeral. I first heard the song not long after attending my cousin’s funeral, and listening to it always evokes that memory for me. I sang along quietly, remembering Jonathan with his quiet, humble demeanor, and his quick laugh. I wished I could remember more about him, and was saddened by the fact that I honestly couldn’t remember when it was that I last saw him. That was when enlightenment came to me, in a flash. I looked at Kristin and realized what an incredible blessing she has been to me. I thought of her family, whom we had just seen, and mine in California, and how blessed we both are to have them. I thought of what a blessing and positive influence Jonathan was to me during his time on earth. I apologize for the repetition of the word, but there is no other word for it. My family, my friends, and my girlfriend have been blessings that I have done nothing to deserve. Then I thought, just hours ago, I was flying into a rage over a driver extending my drive time by thirty seconds. I can dress it up all I want, talk about how rude he was, but it boils down to thirty seconds. With all the blessings I’ve had, with the blessing sitting right next to me as it all unfolded, I had been in an uncontrollable frenzy over thirty seconds. There are not words to describe this type of idiocy. At least good eventually came out of it:

My heart beat once or twice

And life flooded my veins

Everything had changed

My lungs had found their voice

And what was once routine

Was now the perfect joy

The two things that make me prone to anger more than anything else are sporting events not going my way, and bad drivers. I’m sure many of you can relate. It seems we only step back and appreciate the trite nature of these frustrations when we are forced to by the death of a famous athlete at a young age, or the death of a loved on in an automobile collision. I wish it didn’t take that. I wish we (read: “I wish I”) could keep these things in perspective all the time, rather than solely when it’s too late.

Let your loved ones know what they mean to you, because you are blessed to have them. Every moment you’ve spent with them has been a blessing, and you don’t know how many more moments you have with them. Don’t get angry over little things that they do, and please, please don’t get angry because someone you’ve never met isn’t being a respectful driver. That’s my enlightenment.

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SarCoog: While the news about stud QB commit Terrance Broadway is extremely impressive, Cougar fans ought not forget that Coach Sumlin and his staff still have a ways to go in terms of recruiting between now and the 2010 signing day.

But this staff continues to address the defensive needs of this team, and got its 16th commitment in D.J. Jones, a 6’1″ 180 pound cornerback from Steele HS in Cibolo, Texas. Jones also had offers from UTEP, Idaho and the new UTSA program, as well as interest from Baylor, Texas A&M and Utah. Last season Jones was part of a Steele team that went 10-2 on the year and lost in the playoffs to eventual 4A state champion Lake Travis. He led his team with 4 INTs last season and also an INT return for a touchdown. He joins Zach McMillan (Kempner), Kent Brooks (Atascocita) and Alton Demby (North Shore) as the Cougars’ defensive back commits in the class of 2010.

Now since football season is 42 DAYS AWAY… here’s a video flashback to the Coogs road upset of then #23 East Carolina. I know I still enjoy watching that (minus all the UH fumbles).

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SarCoog: As much as one can overrate the evaluation and ranking of high school football players, the UH football program and coach Kevin Sumlin landed a huge commitment today.

QB Terrance Broadway of Capitol HS in Baton Rouge, Louisiana committed to the Cougar football program today. There had been much wailing and gnashing of teeth (this blog included) about whether the Coogs could land a stud QB prospect to compliment the strong recruiting in all the other areas, especially on the offense.

Terrance Broadway

Terrance Broadway

Broadway was rated as the #5 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals and a 4 star prospect. Prior to making his decision, he’d narrowed his list of schools down to UH, Connecticut, Misssissippi State, Louisiana Tech and Oregon. The Cougars’ recruiting coordinator and co-offensive coordinator Jason Phillips was the main recruiter for Broadway. The self-proclaimed Louisiana recruiting expert (and LSU honk) Dandy Don ranked Broadway as one of his top dozen state prospects.

During his sophomore season Broadway became one of the top QB prospects in the state of Louisiana and passed for 3,225 yards and ran for 774 with 36 total TDs. Last fall as a junior he was 92-142 for 1,257 yards and 12 TDs, with his top performance coming on October 17th against Parkview Baptist (25-34, 1 INT, 1 TD, 71 yards rushing).  It’s worth noting also that he was injured or struggling with injuries for a large portion of last year.

This is… to say it lightly a huge get. You never take it for granted when you get a prospect like Broadway.

What do you think Cougar nation?

ElViento: Despite much of the crying on a certain Cougar message board (an overall very fantastic message board), my above-linked blog entry wasn’t an attempt to be critical of the staff for not recruiting a QB, so much as it was wondering why we hadn’t signed a top-flite QB yet.

Uh,

Question. Answered.

It’s damn near impossible to get too excited about this commit. Broadway’s a fantastic player, a great student, and the type of player who will help attract other great players to the Cougar program. He’s even got a great name for a QB. I didn’t even mention Broadway in my previous blog on the Cougar QB recruiting situation, largely because I thought he was somewhat out of our league. But when it became apparent that being comfortable with a coaching staff, and wanting to play in a system that fit his talents were Broadway’s biggest concerns, there was no reason to doubt the Cougars. I’m generally a very positive guy when it comes to UH sports, but for doubting the staff’s ability to land a guy like Broadway, I apologize.

Welcome to the program, Terrance. We’re very excited to have you.

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bgsu falcons78.) Bowling Green (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 6-6 (4-4 MAC)

Overview: The firing of former coach Gregg Brandon came as a bit of surprise to the outsiders who saw Brandon’s 44-30 record and 3 bowl appearances since he took over in 2003 (BGSU has 8 bowl appearances in team history). But there’s no question that an experienced Falcon team seriously underachieved last year and lost games they had no business losing (Miami and Eastern Michigan come to mind). Brandon’s replacement is Dave Clawson, who was a successful head coach on the Division 1-FCS level with Fordham and Richmond. Clawson was the OC at Tennessee and was dismissed after the firing of Phil Fulmer. Admittedly the offense Clawson ran at Tennessee was terrible, but the folks at BGSU are hoping 2-3 years worth of patience will pay off with the results previously seen at Fordham and Richmond.

The Falcons do have a veteran QB in senior Tyler Sheehan (267-400, 2,610 yards, 20 TD, 9 INT). In the new offense, Sheehan will work in a variety of different sets and not simply the shotgun, as he did in Brandon’s spread offense. According to reports out of spring practice there will also be a great emphasis on the running game, which was toothless and decimated by injuries last year. Battling for the starting tailback job will be junior Willie Geter (301 rushing yards, 6.7 yards/carry, 1 TD) and senior Chris Bullock (384 rushing yards, 4.2 yards/carry, 2 TD). The two guys are different types of backs, but each should get more carries and yards in Clawson’s offense. The top receiver from two years ago, senior Freddie Barnes (40 receptions, 355 yards), is back healthy and should have better numbers after an injury-plagued ’08 season. It’ll also be interesting to see how senior TE Jimmy Scheidler (17 receptions, 150 yards, 7 TD) is used in the new offense, after 7 of his 17 total receptions last year went for TDs. The Falcon offensive line returns 3 starters and is relatively experienced, but there were lots of questions at Tennessee when it came to the strongside/weakside movement Clawson required of the Vols offensive linemen.

Things on defense will be a little trickier for the coaching staff, as the Falcons return only 3 full-time starters. It would’ve been 4, but Michael Ream was dismissed from the team during the spring for an unspecified violation of team rules. That’ll be a big hole to fill as Ream was a senior defensive tackle and the only returning starter on the defensive line. The most experienced returnee on the line is junior DE Angelo Magnone (27 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack). In the middle, junior NT Nick Torresso (9 tackles) and sophomore DT Kevin Alvarado ( 16 tackles, 2.5 TFL) saw a decent amount of action last year. One of the few returning starters is senior LB Jerett Sanderson (68 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT). Also, senior Cody Basler (42 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sack) started 2 games and was the MAC East  Defensive Player of the Week against Wyoming. The biggest goal of this Falcons front seven should be to get pressure on the opposing QBs, as their top returning sack guy only has 3.

The only area with significant experience on this defense is the secondary, where All-MAC candidate senior SS P.J. Mahone (95 tackles, 3 INT). Mahone was the Falcons leading tackler last year and started 6 games of the ’08 season. Senior FS Jahmal Brown (83 tackles, 3.5 TFL) is also back after starting 12 games. Also, senior CB Roger Williams (11 tackles, 1 TFL) should start at corner and also return kicks this coming year. The secondary, and the Flacon defense as a whole will probably take a step back from last year… just because of such an extreme lack of experienced players.

Reasons for Optimism: It appeared as though by the end of his tenure, Brandon and his staff had let some bad apples get into their program. In this offseason coach Clawson made it clear that he placed a high premium on character and booted off a potential All-MAC guy like Michael Ream off the team. While last year’s Tennessee offense was bad, the teams under Clawsons watch have always improved in year 2. He didn’t really get a chance to show that, since he was fired after a year. On the recruiting trail this staff did a good job of signing impact guys on defense, where they’ll need the most immediate help.

Reasons for Pessimism: I have watched a lot of football in my life and few offenses I’ve seen were as inept as the Tennessee group in ’08. The fact that the Vols had an offense stocked with great athletes and couldn’t do better than 115th in the nation… should be a point of concern for BGSU fans. The Falcons don’t have nearly the athletes of a Tennessee and are still in the process of learning this completely knew scheme. There’s also going to be trouble when you have so few returning starters, as the Falcons do on defense. There’s talent on this team and the program has had a decent amount of recent success… but this situation just SCREAMS ‘rebuilding year’.

Season Prediction: The Falcons do get a little credit in the S&H rankings for having a fairly difficult non-conference schedule. They host Troy and go to Missouri in the first two weeks and I think the way the Falcons perform in these games (win or lose) will determine a lot about this season. If they get beaten badly in both, then it could be a very long year, but they could also do well and get some confidence going into MAC play. They’ll also go on the road to face former MAC foe Marshall (who’s always tough at home) and everyone’s non-BCS darling team: Boise State. I’ll be shocked if the Falcons do better than 1-3 in non-conference. The defense is going to have issues throughout MAC play and will have to face defending champion Buffalo on the road in November (can you say ‘snow game’). My gut says the Falcons will have a 5-7 season but look significantly better in MAC play.

Top Web Destination: Ay-Ziggy-Zoomba

virginia cavaliers77.) Virginia (written by ElViento)

’08 Record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)

Overview: Cavalier Head Coach Al Groh always seems to be able to do just enough to keep his job. In his debut season of 2001, the team had their first losing season since 1986, but Groh led the team to a 9-5 record the next year, earning ACC coach of the year honors. Including that year, Virginia went to four straight bowls, until a 5-7 season in ’06. If Groh was worried for his job after that campaign, his ’07 season – which included nine wins, a Gator Bowl berth, and another ACC Coach of the Year award – likely set his mind at ease. However, his ’08 squad promptly put up another 5-7 season, including a 35-point loss to Connecticut and a 28-point loss to Duke. It is not likely that the Cavalier faithful will abide three losing seasons in four years, so Groh looks to be coaching for his job this year.

Groh felt the pressure strongly enough that he showed his son the door. Mike Groh, offensive coordinator and QBs coach for the past three years under his father saw his contract go un-renewed this off-season. The younger Groh had two losing seasons in his 3-year tenure, failed to crack the top-100 in the nation in total offense even once, and oversaw a passing game which has put up a 31-41 TD-INT ratio on his watch. A couple of talented QBs that Groh helped recruit this off-season – Quintin Hunter and Ross Metheny – stayed true to their Virginia commits despite his departure, so Cavalier fans get the best of both worlds.

Finding consistency on offense to go alongside a salty defense has been the issue under head coach Groh, who is his own defensive coordinator. In Virginia’s last two losing seasons, they have failed to score higher than 16 points per game, failed to rush for even 3.5 yards per carry, and failed to throw more touchdowns than interceptions. The man in charge of changing that is new OC Gregg Brandon, who led Bowling Green to some impressive offenses, both as their head coach, and former OC under Urban Meyer. Brandon has implemented a no-huddle offense.

He will have a number of options to choose from at QB, most intriguingly senior Vic Hall. Hall will be the team’s leading returning tackler on defense if he returns to play cornerback, but spent the entire Spring playing QB, after taking snaps in the last game of the ’08 season, and rushing for 109 yards and 2 TDs on 16 carries. (He threw one pass, which was incomplete.) Hall was the first QB to see the field in Virginia’s Spring Game, completing 11 of 16 passes for 98 yards, with 1 INT.

Also a candidate at QB is Jameel Sewel, a senior who missed the 2008 season with academic issues, but was the starting QB for Virginia’s 9-win season in ’07, throwing for 2,176 yards, 12 TDs and 9 INT.

Finally, junior Marc Verica will be in the hunt on the basis of being the returning starting QB from a year ago, although his 8-16 TD-INT ratio is nothing to brag about. Still, Verica had the most impressive Spring Game of the three, and his 63.8% completion percentage of a year ago indicates that pass accuracy is possible.

Reasons for Optimism: The Cavaliers O-line loses first-round draft pick Eugene Monroe, but returns four starters, and replaces Monroe with one of the top high schoolers in the nation in Morgan Moses.

Virginia runs a 3-4 defense under Groh, and returns two D-linemen who will be sophomores, but already have significant experience, in Matt Conrath (35 tkl, 3 sacks) and Nick Jenkins (25 tkl, 3 tfl). The Cavaliers need both to have improved seasons in their second year of college ball, but with Groh at the helm, improvement seems likely, and the defense in general is probably in good hands. Even if Hall moves to QB full-time, the secondary will benefit from returning starters Ras-I Dowling (11 PBU, 3 INT) and Corey Mosley (46 tkl, 2 PBU), and the return of Chris Cook, a former starter who, like Sewell, was out of school in ’08. The secondary looks like the strength of the defense.

Reasons for Pessimism: A 3-4 defense depends heavily on its linebacking corps, and the Cavalier group will be so inexperienced that ESPN ACC blogger Heather Dinich ranked it the worst squad in the conference. Groh will need to get some major production out of some youngsters.

While the QB position has some experienced returning guys, there’s still no sure-thing. Star RB Cedric Peerman is gone, and the offense could struggle to replace his production, as well. I think Brandon’s a good hire at OC, but he might struggle to find the right personnel in his first year. Given that the offense is likely to be somewhat pass-happy under Brandon, the loss of the team’s top five receivers from a year ago is troublesome, as well.

Season Prediction: Virginia opens with Division 1-AA foe William & Mary, and after that has a very interesting non-conference slate. They play two of the top ten toughest non-BCS teams in TCU (home) and Southern Miss (road). Their one BCS-conference foe, Indiana, is easily their worst 1-A non-conference opponent. If the Cavaliers can beat North Carolina for the fourth straight year, and win three of their four non-conference games, a 4-1 record would set them up very nicely for the rest of the year.  And they need to get off to a fast start, because the back end of the schedule (@Miami, vs. Boston College, @ Clemson, vs. Virginia Tech) is brutal. Virginia is a talented team, but against their tough schedule, I think they only manage six wins – William and Mary, North Carolina, Indiana, Maryland, Duke and Boston College.

Top Web Destination: The Sabre

memphis tigers76.) Memphis (written by SarCoog)

’08 Record: 6-7 (4-4 CUSA)

Overview: There have been few coaches in the history of Memphis football as successful as one Tommy West. Yet heading into the ’09 season, admittedly things are starting to become a bit stale around the Tiger program. Sure this team went to a bowl last year, but who was really, truly excited about the Magicjack St. Petes Bowl? If the team was they certainly didn’t show it in a 41-14 blowout loss to USF at Tropicana Field. The Tigers need to have a season to inspire the fanbase and a lot of things have to fall in place for that to happen.

Admittedly the QB position for the Tigers was hit with a ridiculous number of injuries and that ended up seriously hurting the offensive production. Senior Arkelon Hall (191-335, 2,275 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT) came to Memphis last year by way of the College of the Sequoias and won the starting job out of fall practices. Hall has a very good arm and is mobile, but was hampered for the latter part of last season when he broke his thumb against East Carolina. Senior Brett Toney (31-53, 338 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) has been a career back-up and could push Hall in fall practices, but I expect he’ll be the #2 or #3 QB come the season opener against Ole Miss. Also, two sport athlete senior Will Hudgens has gotten some reps in his career as a backup QB and was granted a 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA. The guy Tiger fans are most excited about is sophomore Tyler Bass (10-13, 101 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) who had a great 1st half performance last year against Southern Miss (9-10, 107 yards, 1 TD) but tore his ACL late in the 3rd quarter and missed the rest of the year. One of the biggest surprises of last year was senior RB Curtis Steele (1,223 rushing yards, 5.6 yards/carry, 7 TD) who was a 2nd team All-CUSA selection coming off a redshirt year. The Tigers also added Wisconsin-transfer junior Lance Smith (436 yards, 6.1 yards/carry, 3 TD in ’07) who was the 3rd-leading rusher for the Badgers two seasons ago. It’s worth noting that Smith was considered to be #2 high school RB in the state of Ohio, behind former Ohio State back Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells. The receiving corps is also fairly stacked, with the 6’8″ 220 pound senior Carlos Singleton (52 receptions, 791 yards, 5 TD) returning to the fold (fun fact: Singleton is only 265 yards away from being the Tigers’ all-time leading receiver). Senior Duke Calhoun (40 receptions, 487 yards, 3 TD) is another returning starter and sophomore Jermaine McKenzie should see immediate playing time after transferring in from Miami. Another Miami transfer that should be make an impact is senior TE DajLeon Farr, who was on a North Shore High School team that won the 2003 Texas 5A state title and was one of the most dominant teams in state history.

Probably the biggest issue will be an offensive line that lost some key contributors from last year. Multi-year starters RT Brandon Pearce (a 1st team All-CUSA selection) and C Phillip Beliles, along with LT Cody Stubblefield have all graduated. Junior C Dominik Riley is the only full-time starter returning and earned Freshman All CUSA honors in ’07. One of the Tigers’ Juco transfers, junior Brad Paul, got to participate in spring practices and was the #1 right tackle coming out of the spring. Senior OG Malcom Rawls started 5 games last year at left guard in ’08 and should be a full-time guy come this fall. The Tigers had a good offense last year and were 22nd in the country in rushing, but struggled in the red zone. If the quarterbacks aren’t hit by another catastrophic series of injuries and the line doesn’t regress too much, OC Clay Helton and the offensive staff will have a lot to work with.

The big issues will come on defense, where for the 3rd time in as many years the Tigers will be breaking in a new defensive coordinator (previous DC Tim Walton took a job with the Detroit Lions as secondary coach). Coach West didn’t look far when he promoted LBs coach Kenny Ingram to take over the DC duties. Last year this unit wasn’t great by any stretch, but were improved over some of the terrible defenses of the previous couple seasons. The defensive line was hit the hardest by graduation and they lost 1st team All-CUSA selection Clinton McDonald, as well as starters Corey Mills and Freddie Barnett. The biggest get of the last recruiting class was junior DT Justin Thompson, who originally committed to Oregon in ’08 after helping lead El Camino CC to a California junior college title. But Thompson couldn’t enroll because of academic issues and spent the fall getting his academic house in order before enrolling at Memphis this past January. Junior NT Tim McGee should play alongside Thompson after coming in as a highly-touted Juco prospect, but redshirting last year due to an injury. The top tackler from last year, senior FS Alton Starr (90 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 INT) is back after earning Honorable Mention All-CUSA honors in ’08. Another guy in the Tiger secondary that earned HM All-CUSA honors was senior CB D.A. Griffin (64 tackles, 2.5 TFL). At the other corner spot, senior Deante’ Lamar (35 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT) is back after starting 10 games last season. In the linebacking corps, senior Greg Jackson (52 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT) started at OLB in 9 of the 10 contests he was active for last year and was named the Tiger Defensive MVP after the season. Leading the defense at the ‘Mike’ linebacker position is junior Winston Bowens (55 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks) who started 11 games in ’08. Finally you can’t overlook the addition of LSU transfer junior Derrick Odom, who was a big recruit coming out of high school but got into some trouble in Baton Rouge.

There’s a decent amount of experience on this defense, but enough question marks to make you wonder whether they will equal the production of last season. The rushing defense struggled last year (76th in the country) with a very experienced defensive line, so how will the Tigers do against the run with an almost entirely new unit? Also, will the senior experience in the secondary lead to improved results in the coming year? These are all questions that Kenny Ingram and the defensive staff need to figure out by the season opener.

Reasons for Optimism: While the debilitating injuries at QB last year hurt the offense, it allowed all of the Tiger signal callers to get some valuable in-game experience. Arkelon Hall may have the inside track to the starting job, but guys like Tyler Bass proved they can effectively run the offense and can be contributors in the coming seasons. The running backs are also pretty stacked with an All-CUSA guy like Steele and highly-touted transfer in Smith. Also, last year’s 2nd leading tackler: Jeremy Longstreet, switched to RB in spring practices. Hall or whomever the QB may be, also will get to throw one of the tallest, most athletic receiver groups in college football. It’ll also be interesting to see how the defense is improved by highly-touted JC guys like Justin Thompson and Tim McGee.

Reasons for Pessimism: Last year’s team was stocked with seniors and even factoring in all of the injuries, probably should have done better than their 6-6 regular season record. The offense put up lots of yards last season, but struggled in the red zone and the Tigers will need to improve in that area if they expect to make serious noise in the CUSA East. Also while Hall was effective for periods last year, there were also times where he looked out of shape and that could keep him from having a breakout senior year. The offensive line will need to overcome its inexperience and open up holes if the Tigers are to have a top 25 rushing attack one again this year. Also, I’ll be surprised if the Tigers can equal last year’s production on defense with so many question marks up front on the line. Finally, while West has brought respectability to this program, the last time this program had more than 7 wins was 2004 and whatever the reason the Tigers are in a rut.

Season Prediction: The year will open with a doozy against pre-season top 10 team Ole Miss and the Tigers have given the Rebels some scares in recent history. There’s also a ‘trap game’ on the road against regional foe MTSU, but I think the boys in blue and grey will leave Murfreesboro with a win. Rounding out the OOC schedule is a cupcake again Tennessee-Martin (D1-FCS) and a road-trip to face in-state rival Tennessee and their noted egomaniac coach Lane Kiffin. The CUSA schedule makers did the Tigers no favors, as they have to go on the road to face 3 of the best 4 teams in conference play (Houston, Tulsa and Southern Miss). Defending-champion East Carolina will come to Memphis and I think that could potentially be an upset. With the schedule as it is, I see the Tigers going 6-6 at best. The offense will be better than last year, but I doubt the defense will improve and the schedule will be much less forgiving.

Top Web Destination: MemphisTigers.org

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