Saturday, August 11, 2007


Ah, the allure of a neutral site game. Almost assured national television coverage, given the game is any good to begin with. A 50-50 split on revenues. And when you happen to be closer to the neutral site than your opponent, all the better.

In one of the most interesting nonconference games of the year, Alabama and FSU clash in Jacksonville, a city which apparently exists simply to host football games, during Week 5. This is old money, in the form of the Crimson Tide, versus new money, in the form of FSU.

Why ya reckon they made a football outta crystal?

It's odd to call anything at FSU "new," given the fact that their coach could be the great-grandfather of many of is his players. But the first FSU national championship came in 1993 -- after the Tide's last championship. (Something I would hasten to advise FSU fans not to mention while in Jacksonville. It could be hazardous to your health.)

Neither of these teams will get any TV mileage out of their current prominence because, face it, they have none. Several years of offenses orchestrated by Jeff Bowden and Mike Shula have proven that no tradition is safe from being left crumpled in a dark alley, bleeding, shivering and begging for someone to call 911.

But the tradition will bring it to television, and give us a game time.

Another rivalry that gets traction merely from the history and names of the programs involved is Air Force at Navy, a 1 p.m. game that airs on CSTV. So as long as you don't have CSTV, you don't have to feel unpatriotic for not watching it.

The two games airing Thursday and Friday have potential. In a clash of two of the consistently better mid-major teams in college football, Southern Mississippi travels to the land of the blue turf to take on Boise State. (Psssst -- watch out for the Statue of Liberty.) That's Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ESPN.

The next day, West Virginia journeys to South Florida at 8 p.m. in an ESPN2 game. Revenge could be on the Mountaineers' mind, given that the Bulls helped derail their Big East/national title dreams last year. USF, meanwhile, will be trying to prove that it has arrived.

Back to Saturday, the intraconference slate isn't shabby, either.

Auburn goes to Florida, with the time and network to be announced. If Al Borges has finally cracked the code of Brandon Cox, this could be a good shootout in the Swamp.

Two coaches that have well-established means meet in the best ACC game of the week as Clemson heads to Georgia Tech in the battle of the auto-pilot programs. Will this be part of Baby Bowden's eight wins or Chan Gailey's seven? Again, time and channel forthcoming.

Two interesting Pac-10 games on the week: Washington hosts Southern Cal as its year of purgatory continues. But don't label the Huskies losers yet; given a competent clock official, Washington would have had a decent chance at upsetting the other USC last year. (Yes, C&F is aware that "competent" and "official" don't belong in the same sentence when discussing the Pac-10.) The 8 p.m. game is either likely or going to be included in ABC's Saturday Night Football, depending on who you listen to, though it's also probably destined for regional coverage.

Cal at Oregon is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., meaning that it is almost destined to also be on ABC's slate, more than likely also for the West Coast. (C&F tries to break out of his East Coast bias, but The Man is keeping him down.)

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Has ever so much athletic talent been coached by a man with so little intelligence? Okay, so that might not be a fair question to ask in a conference that includes Houston Nutt and at least one school so embarassed by their last coach that some fans refer to him as [NAME REDACTED].

This guy:Les Miles::Mississippi SAT scores:South Carolina scores.

In any case, it has been a bizarre off-season for LSU head coach Les Miles, who called out the football prowess of the Pac-10, Big XII, ACC and the nation of Sierra Leone. This after he said that the school had a new rival in "f-ing Alabama" -- an emphatic statement for a man who had few links to the SEC or the state of Louisiana before he became the Tigers' coach.

But Les Miles' saving grace -- probably -- is the amount of talent he has. There appears to have been little if any drop-off in recruiting since Nick Saban left, though the truth of that statement will be tested in the next few years. For this season, LSU continues to reload. The question likely isn't whether the Gamecocks will lose this game, but by how much they'll fall short.


O-line. Until the season begins, there is quite simiply no reason to favor the Gamecocks in this category in any game against BCS-caliber opposition. Only a "PUSH" will result when they face an opponent with an equally untested front unit. That's not the case here, as LSU returns all but one starter from last year's line, which allowed 19 sacks. ADVANTAGE: LSU

Quarterback. So was Matt Flynn hanging 40 on Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl an example of his skills or a mirage of greatness? Last year, he went 12-for-20 with 2 TDs and 1 INT and 133 yards, largely in mop-up time. (The hardest opponent he took the field against was Kentucky.) C&F has sensed few rumblings out of Baton Rouge that he is doing poorly in the new offense Gary Crowton is installing, though he has heard few rumblings generally. Blake Mitchell has more time in the system and more playing time, but that might not be the best thing for him to lean on given the results. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Wide receivers. LSU loses almost 1,800 receiving yards with the departures of Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis, but Early Doucet is a capable replacement as the No. 1, hauling in 59 passes for 772 yards and 8 scores last season. Both teams lack a proven No. 2. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Running backs. The Tigers rushed for around 166 yards a game last year with no apparent leader on the ground. Jacob Hester returns as the fullback after leading the team with 440 yards and 6 TDs last season. Keiland Williams rushed 436 yards and 5 scores. With Boyd and Davis, this could be the only solace for the Gamecocks. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA


Defensive line. Tyson Jackson returns after logging 8.5 sacks in the 2006 campaign. The rest of the line isn't exactly the most solid in the world, but Bo Pelini hasn't put a bad squad on the field since coming to LSU. Last year, the Tigers put the QB on the ground 39 times. ADVANTAGE: LSU

Surprisingly, he accounted for just one of those sacks.

Linebackers. Darry Beckwith returns from a 65-tackle 2006. Ali Highsmith and Luke Sanders flank him. None have particularly impressive numbers, but great things are expected from them this year. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Secondary. Despite the loss of LaRon Landry, the Tigers are still stacked in the defensive backfield. Johnathan Zenon had 4 INTs, returned them for a total of 81 yards and scored twice. Craig Steltz also picked off four passes, returning them a total of 111 yards. Chevis Jackson broke up 14 passes. Free safety could be the one weakness. ADVANTAGE: LSU


So when your team allows 1,032 kick return yards, is that a bad thing if the reason for that is that you kicked the ball off 52 times? Doucet was nothing special in kick returns, which he will do this year, and had limited experience returning punts, something he will likely also handle. ADVANTAGE: PUSH


Please. Steve Spurrier would mentally lap Les Miles before the LSU coach even figured out a race was being held. Despite being left with a full cupboard the last two years, Miles still doesn't have a conference crown to show for it. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA


Despite several pushes on individual units, the Tigers are the better team, and the game is played in Baton Rouge at night -- a tough win for anybody. If the Gamecocks are truly ready to aim for an SEC crown, they better keep the game competitive. But unless Spurrier knows something the rest of us don't, or LSU is just the beneficiary of undeserved hype, South Carolina will need a miracle to win. LOSS


LSU is a preseason favorite to play their way to New Orleans for the NC game. With Arkansas imploding in pseudo-scandal and Alabama trying to recover from the Mike Shula Experiment, Auburn is the only thing keeping the LSU Tigers from a trip to Atlanta. They, too, will face LSU in the Bayou. And while anything can -- and usually does -- happen in that game, look for LSU to make good on the projections. Assuming, of course, that Les Miles can at least pretend to be sane for four months.

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It should be pointed out that once you reach about Week 4, it becomes much more difficult to figure out what will be the marquee matchups -- and even harder to decipher which ones will be televised. Conventional wisdom could be in tatters by this time, and television schedulers will wait until then to find out which games are worth televising. No one would have thought last August, for example, that Louisville at Rutgers would be a major turning point in the season.

Granted, it was a Thursday game, but it never would have made this preview last year as a must-watch.

Whoda thunk it?

That said, you will not see any wild-eyed projections from C&F. He will not in any way endorse the Temple-Bowling Green battle as a big game. In all likelihood, it will be a clunker. But just keep that in mind as you read the rest of the previews.

There is an interesting cross-section game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., as Texas A&M travels to Miami for an ESPN telecast. At this point in the season, Dennis Franchione will have either proved nothing or have already made several resume-preparing trips to Kinko. The U will have already visited Oklahoma but still be trying to find out what it has.

On Saturday, Penn State goes to Michigan in a game where the time and possible TV alignment are unknown. The implications are unknown at this point as well, and might be known at least until after the game; Michigan will be a player in the conference race, but Penn State doesn't play another major game except a home tilt with Notre Dame before this one.

Georgia faces its third possibly difficult game in four weeks as it goes to Tuscaloosa for a between the spelling-challenged Dawgs and the Crimson Tide. Also TBA is Arizona's journey to Cal. Don't forget that the Golden Bears' meltdown against the Wildcats was the first sign that they were overblown as a threat to the Trojans.

As for scheduled games, Michigan State's trip to Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m. could always be interesting given the ability of the Spartans to confound expectations and the fact that both teams could be struggling. Head coach Mark Dantonio could get buzz, though, by knocking off the Irish in a nationally televised game on NBC.

Don't slap yourself, Mark. It didn't make this guy look good.

The next interesting match-up is likely to be at 7 p.m., when Kentucky visits the circus that is Arkansas. The Wildcats will be looking to make a statement in their first SEC game, while Arkansas will still be trying to prove that the preseason chaos hasn't rendered them irrelevant.

At 8 p.m., the Gamecocks head to Baton Rouge as South Carolina takes on LSU. Most people -- C&F included -- expect LSU to win this game. But if the Gamecocks can keep it close, they unquestionably become a team to watch in the SEC East race, particularly if South Carolina defeats Georgia.

The only ABC Saturday Night Football game (8 p.m.) of real interest will be perpetually disappointing Iowa's trip to Wisconsin. It's the first conference game for either, so it could prove as a strength check for both.

Those are all the games that look interesting now. By mid-September, things could look very different.

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Friday, August 10, 2007


Why? Why why why why? Why did the NCAA allow teams to add Division I-AA (no, C&F is not calling it the championship division) team to their schedule annually and still have the wins count toward bowl eligibility? Yes, C&F knows, it's money. And the lack of any apparent connection between the NCAA and logic.

But it just sets the stage for bloodshed. Custer had better odds than most of these teams.

Even I'm not that stupid.

That said, C&F has no interest in testing the odds. So, as was the case with Louisiana-Lafayette, here's a somewhat abbreviated preview of the tilt with yet another Bulldog team -- the second of three squads (Georgia, Mississippi State) to use that creative moniker.


QB Cleveland McCoy completed 51.4 percent of his passes last year, going 94-183 for 1,224 yards, 10 TDs and 9 INTs. But he completed 57.1 percent against Howard, 63.2 percent at Morgan State and 61.5 percent at North Carolina A&T to close out the regular season. William Ford, he of the 752 yards and 10 TDs, returns. Still, the Gamecocks have far more power on this side of the ball. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA


Only four of South Carolina State's opponents managed to score 20 or more points in 2006, and they averaged a measley 18.5 points a game. The defense has a decent amount of experience. But losses vs. Bethune-Cookman and at Coastal Carolina to end September were ugly. Again, there's little reason to believe they can contain the Gamecocks. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA


Nothing commends the State performance on special teams. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA


Again, as close to a sure thing as the Gamecocks are likely to get.

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Before C&F gets to the actual substance of the preview against Georgia, he wants to make sure to rebut what Hey Jenny Slater said in its own preview of the South Carolina-Georgia matchup in recent years.

We own their asses to the tune of a 44-13-2 all-time record, so it’s not like they’re some kind of bitter historical rival, but their constant “We’re gonna whip your asses this year” shit-talking backed up by no discernible evidence gets them 4.5 points.

That our constant promises of defeating the spelling-challenged Dawgs in a given year has not produced a victory since 2001 is undisputable; that we have somehow be "own[ed]" is a notion clearly coming from not having watched the game over the last several years. (Or watching it through red-and-black-colored shades.)

In fact, in the Richt Era, the average score of the game has been 18.0-9.8 -- slightly more than a touchdown. Take out an aberrant 31-7 drubbing in 2003, and the average score has been 15.4-10.4. Neither of those points to being owned.

In fact, among the five straight losses was the 13-7 debacle in the mud in 2002, when the Bulldogs outscored the Gamecocks 10-7 in the fourth quarter in a game that was essentially in doubt until then; the come-from-behind 20-16 game in 2004, in which Lou Holtz decided to calll 58 consecutive quarterback draws; and the 17-15 failure to execute in 2005, a game that South Carolina essentially lost by 10 yards on flubbed fieldgoals and a missed two-point conversion pass that would have won the game.

If you want to use games from the early 1990s or the 1980s to prove your point, that's fine. Five words for you: Steve Spurrier versus Ray Goff.

The "discernible evidence" boils down to the statistical evidence that eventually, the bounces go back your way, the luck of the other guy runs out. It's called reversion to the mean. On the other hand, 15-of-17 -- now that's getting owned.

On to the preview.


O-line. The South Carolina offensive line is in disarray at this point; no one can deny that. But the Georgia front also looks like it's going to take a while to take shape. Going on past performance though, Georgia should be able to put together a better effort than South Carolina can; whether it will be enough to hold back the Gamecocks' defensive front is another question. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA

Quarterback. Matthew Stafford has been much ballyhooed this year as perhaps the best QB in the SEC -- but he has yet to prove it on the field. Last year, Stafford completed just 52.7 percent of his passes and threw 7 TDs against 13 interceptions. Many of those numbers notably improved toward the last half of the year, but not notably enough (in C&F's opinion) to justify the hype. Quick quiz -- of Stafford and Mitchell last year, who had the better TD-to-INT ratio? Mitchell. Better rating? Mitchell. Higher yards-per-game average? Mitchell. But C&F is not sold on Blake until he proves that he can win the critical game with skill and not luck. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

7 TDs, 13 INTs: Best QB everer!!111!!

Wide receivers. This one is also tough. Both teams are likely to start few if any of the players that started last year. The only returner among either team to catch more than 50 balls is Kenny McKinley. Some of the receivers for both teams have shown promise on the practice field in the preseason, but that is far, far from doing it during the games in the SEC. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Running backs. Kregg Lumpkin and Cory Boyd are about even on every major stastical category, though most of them tilt ever so slightly in Boyd's favor. But C&F thinks the Gameocks have a touch more depth -- he'll take Mike Davis over likely backups at Georgia any day -- and Boyd has the clear advantage when it comes to contributing to the passing game. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Cory Boyd: Good runner, good receiver.


D-line. Georgia loses a lot of experience along the line, including both of their leading sackers. This year's starters had 3.5 sacks between them last year -- less than the Gamecocks' Eric Norwood. South Carolina's line is also green, but is surprising coaches -- they can't tell if the o-line is that bad or the d-line is that good. Again, not enough to judge on either side. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Linebackers. If respect for South Carolina's secondary comes from reputation, the linebackers might actually be the most proven part of the team. The Brinkley twins combined for 12 sacks (even if one of them played mostly on the line last year). Georgia's linebacking unit has little experience and little to show for it. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Secondary. Again, this is mostly rep this year on South Carolina's side. Captain Munnerlyn had a nice season with some playing time, grabbing a couple of interceptions. Carlos Thomas also took a couple away. Brandon Isaac was out last year; Emanuel Cook could go either way. Also not much on the Georgia side in the way of experience. ADVANTAGE: PUSH


Mikey Henderson and Asher Allen return the ball well. Brandon Coutu might simply be the best place-kicker in the SEC, and possibly the country. The Bulldogs do lose known commodity Gordon Ely-Kelso as their punter. For the Gamecocks, Ryan Succop should be fine, but the return game is coming off a season that was just bad. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA


Yes, Mark Richt is a great coach. Yes, he's gotten the better of South Carolina in all except his first year. But the guy on our sideline is still Steve Spurrier. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Tell Mark to call me when he's got six.


This is one of those games C&F hates to hazard a guess at. Every year it looks like Georgia should win, they do. Every game it looks like Georgia should lose, they don't. If someone placed a gun to C&F's head and told him to decide, he'd probably go with Georgia. It's like the Cubs; you don't pick them to win the World Series until they do it, because otherwise you're just placing your teeth in front of someone with steel-toed shoes and asking them to kick you as hard as they can. Officially? C&F wimps out. The teams are just too evenly matched, and this game is just too early in the season. TOSS UP


Mark Richt is a great coach, so don't count Georgia out of anything yet. But they have a good chance of landing anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 in the SEC East this year. Kentucky is good, and if South Carolina beats Georgia, they could start off the season 0-2. (Oklahoma State's trip to Athens is looking better and better for the Cowboys from where C&F sits.) Lose to Alabama or Tennessee, and the season could be over (in terms of conference championship hopes) before October is done. I see four certain wins on their schedule. Games that could go either way: South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia Tech. Out of respect for Mark Richt, though, I give Georgia a 7-5 baseline every year. This year, that's probably all they'll get.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007


Well, before getting underway on the Week 3 preview, C&F has to clean up a mess he made earlier -- namely, omitting the Sept. 3 game between FSU and Clemson in Dearth Valley. Forgive C&F his stupidity.

That didn't take long.

Include it under Week 1 if you want or Week 2, but the Monday game is at 8 p.m. on ESPN and well worth watching. The only question is, if the game is at the beginning of the year, can it still save Baby Bowden's job?

On to Week 3.

It's not quite "Footballpocalyse," as EDSBS dubbed last year's extravaganza, but Week 3 is nonetheless a good one. Having dispensed with a couple of nonconference games and wanting to save some for midseason breathers or homecoming games, some teams roll out their initial conference efforts. Others try to capitalize on two weeks of tuning up to bring in their first conference foe. Still others, like South Carolina ... return to horrible nonconference matchups like the Gamecock's tilt with S.C. State. So it's not perfect.

The weekend begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, when West Virginia goes to Maryland for a cross-border rivalry matchup. Maryland is a decent team, but West Virginia is top-5 material. That said, it's a rivalry game, so anything can happen. It's on ESPN.

You might skim Iowa at Iowa State on Versus at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, but the next big games start two hours later, when Michigan hosts Notre Dame (ABC) and Tennessee travels to Florida (CBS). Also on the plate is the next step in the gradual dismemberment of Washington as Ohio State comes to town (ESPN).

I hate my athletics director.

Arkansas comes to Alabama at 6:45 p.m. on ESPN, as college football's craziest coach takes on the shadiest. But, alas, the contest between Kentucky and Louisville at 7:30 p.m. airs only on ESPN Classic. If you have it, don't talk to me. The one year the game could be a good one, and they shuffle it off to a second-tier network. (No, Jim Delany, I'm not talking about the Big Ten Network.)

The highlight of the 8 p.m. time slot is USC at Nebraska, as the Huskers give Southern Cal its first test of the year on ABC Saturday Night Football. For ACC fans, there's a pretty significant showdown between BC and Georgia Tech on ESPN2.

The offbeat nightcap is Florida State's trip to Colorado at 10 p.m. on ESPN, though the game could quickly turn into a rout if the Buffaloes haven't figured out that "it's Division I football, brother!"

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Before he talks about this case, C&F should make it clear that he has never tried out for any sports team, never played any team sport more organized than the local flag football league -- and didn't do that very well.

That said, he still finds it difficult to believe that the disappointment of losing a competition for the starting punting job at a Division I-AA team could lead someone to try to harm another human being, to stab the leg that was earning a student his education.

But that's exactly what a jury found Mitch Cozad did when they convicted the backup punter of second-degree assault even as they rejected a charge of attempted murder.

His mother, Suzanne Cozad, shouted at prosecutors, "You all know he passed the polygraph, you all know it."
Gavaldon told reporters that Cozad had taken a lie-detector test and had passed, but he said polygraph results are inadmissible in Colorado courts. ...
Gavaldon told jurors it was Kevin Aussprung, a student living in the same dorm as Cozad, who stabbed Mendoza. After the verdict, Gavaldon said Aussprung declined to take a polygraph test.
Aussprung adamantly denied he was the attacker.
His attorney, Bill Crosier, said Aussprung wanted to take a polygraph but was angry and nervous over the suggestion that he might be the attacker, feelings he thought might cause the machine to falsely indicate he was lying.
Crosier said he suggested Aussprung take the test another day, but "the operator didn't call me again."
District Attorney Ken Buck ... a former college punter himself whose son is a freshman linebacker at Army, said the verdict sends a message that Americans take sports too seriously.
"The message is that it's never, ever appropriate to try to hurt somebody, first of all, and second of all, over something as stupid as starting on the football team," Buck said.

C&F would like to take this moment to point out what many people don't know: Polygraphs are not admissible in most courts because they are best used as an investigative tool. They read whether or not a person is nervous and upset. If you're overly nervous about giving an answer that would exonerate you, an interrogator knows to push harder.

On the other hand, a pathological liar (and C&F is not in any way implying that Cozad is one) can pass a polygraph with little trouble. So the whole issue of who would and wouldn't take a "lie-detector test" is a red herring.

Meanwhile, at Northern Colorado, there's football to be played, a game against Hawaii on the docket. And the players just want to move on. But you have to wonder how. How can a team move on when one of its members is trying to survive a horrific attack, while another is now preparing to be sentenced for that act? And how much harder does it make it that all of that is tied to the very sport you're trying to play?

This has been a story for months. And still none of it makes sense.

--Person has an interesting post on how players' heights and weights on the official roster can be ... er, different than those listed when they were being recruited.

Brian "Hollywood" Maddox, the Anderson tailback featured on ESPNU's "Summer House" series, began camp at 5-10 and 214 pounds (shorter and lighter than his 5-11, 225 listing in February).

Can the entertainment biz really give you an eating disorder that quickly?
--A would-be case against the UCLA receivers coach will not result in charges under odd circumstances.

Prosecutors rejected the case against Scott and his cousin, Timothy Williams, because witnesses and victims were either unavailable or uncooperative, said Jane Robison, a district attorney's spokeswoman.

A coincidence, I'm sure.
--More bizarreness from Nuttistan, as the father of a former player alleging steroid use in the program, recounting the atrocious manners of the Ayatollah Housteihni and labeling one coach "a dumb ass." C&F is unsure whether Mr. Tucker meant "a dumbass" or an unintelligent burro. Discuss amongst yourselves.
--SI surveys the players and finds that a plurality would like to play for Pete Carroll if they weren't on their current team. Bless you, angels. NC favorite is Southern Cal, while McFadden takes the preseason Heisman, both running away.
--Finally, the text-message ban will stand, at least for now. "that sux," Urban Meyer texted C&F in an exclusive interview. "nbd. well win ltr"

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Following up on the Steve Spurrier controversy, The State delves into the CW that academics and athletics are in conflict and, no surprise, backs up what everyone (apparently including the author) believed to begin with: There is a conflict, and it does bear on the admissions flap.

But a larger issue remains: Should a public university such as USC have standards higher than the NCAA minimums? ...
The NCAA minimum standards are a sliding scale: The higher the grade point average, the lower the SAT or ACT test score needs to be and vice versa. But the Gamecock coaches complain that the new admissions process has been decided by a committee, without much definitive word on what exactly is needed. ...
"No committee, unless they can look inside a young man and determine his desire to get an education, his commitment, can determine whether a kid can graduate or not," [former Baylor coach Chuck] Reedy said.
Of course, much of USC’s worry is based upon the academic progress rate (APR), the NCAA’s new measuring device for academics, which penalizes schools for poor classroom performance by its athletes. South Carolina has cited the APR as its reason for raising standards in order to avoid the loss of future athletic scholarships.

The emphasis, of course, is C&F's. But C&F would go even further: If South Carolina's institutional goal is to admit only students who can graduate, then the university is doing a damn poor job of it.

In fact, the most recent figures available (from this PDF) show that the four-year graduation rate for the South Carolina cohort that entered school in 2002 is 44.9 percent. The five-year rate for the 2001 class is 59 percent, and the six-year rate (which, for some reason, is the industry standard) for the 2000 group is 62.4 percent.

In other words, almost four in 10 students who come through the admissions process don't graduate in six years -- and few of those left behind after that are going to graduate at all, if you follow the natural trend of the numbers.

The numbers for the 1996-99 cohorts of South Carolina football players (back when the numbers were even worse than those above for the general population) was 64 percent according to the NCAA's calculation, about 54 percent according to the federal government. (The numbers are from this PDF; the gap comes from a methodology difference.) When you look at the NCAA "Graduation Success Rate" -- which is, after all, what the university is puportedly worried about -- student-athletes are doing about the same or maybe better than their counterparts.

But even if that were not the case, to use "academic reform" as a reason to not admit students runs contrary to the spirit of reform, or at least what the spirit of reform should be. The point should not be to raise graduation rates by any means necessary; instead, it should be to graduate more of the students you would have admitted before academic reform was put in place.

In other words, is the emphasis on graduating student-athletes or only admitting "the right kind" of student-athlete so you can get the graduation rate up without expending any extra effort?

The job of a public university is not to weed out undesirable students who are otherwise qualified out of some vague notion that they might not be able to graduate. Granted, the school can't graduate for the student, but the university is supposed to provide the resources necessary for the student to graduate. If no more than six out of every 10 students walk off your campus with a diploma within six years of beginning classes, something is wrong with the system, not the students.

This isn't a tirade against the University of South Carolina. I received my diploma there, and am proud of having graduated. In four years, if it matters. I think it's a pretty good public university. Low college graduation rates are a problem that reaches far beyond the state of South Carolina and far beyond athletics departments. It's a problem for many states, across the board.

If you want to find a way to graduate more students (athletes and non-athletes alike), I'm all for it. But if you want to use the sanctimonious pseudo-conflict between academics and athletics as a shield for keeping qualified students out because they might drag down your numbers, then go ahead and call "academic reform" what it is.

A sham.

--Are watch lists even worth the paper they're printed on anymore? Sorry, but when Blake Mitchell has the potential to be named the nation's best quarterback, something's wrong there. Or these guys are watching a different QB than the one C&F sees on a weekly basis.
--Break out the crumpets! Yale is the favorite to win the Ivy League.

Hello, I'm Mike McLeod. You've never heard of me, but NY Times loves me.

--Frank Beamer has discovered the enemy from last year's Peach Bowl -- and it's a spy. Hey, Valerie Plame's got to find work somewhere, right?

A covert Virginia Tech operative. C&F will not reveal his sources.

--Oregon's newest twist? Going to China. C&F has no interest in seeing the uniforms for that game.

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Week 2 starts off with at least one disadvantage: No Saturday Night Football on ABC, which means no drunken Musberger slurring his way through an incoherent rant about those bloggers and their Interwebnetworld.

No, instead ABC -- or, more appropriately, ESPN on ABC (as if you were unaware of the DISNEYESPNABCHALFOFSOUTHAMERICA corporate juggernaut) -- has decided to show racing. On a Saturday night in the fall. Racing.

You want fast? There's LSU. You want collisions? Watch Jimmy Clausen get his skull beat in when Penn State's linebackers spend more time in the backfield than Notre Dame's running back.

Notre Dame QB only wishes it felt this painless.

But Week 2 still has intriguing nonconference battles, and at least one conference rivalry sometimes overlooked by the chattering class.

For the early set, there's the 11:10 a.m. ET game between West Virginia and Marshall. Aside from the fact that it is an unspeakable crime against humanity to televise a football game that starts before noon ET, it probably won't be a very good one. Marshall is expected to be a middling team in Conference USA. West Virginia is thinking national title. Unless some prominent football program starts talking about offering Rich Rodriguez a job, look for this one to be over by the end of the first half.

Go ahead and issue the severe couch-burning warning.

Noon -- which is, after all, when football games are supposed to start -- brings a pair of hmmm matchups. Not be-in-front-of-our-TV-because-you've-got-to-see-this games, but interesting nonetheless. Nebraska at Wake Forest is set for ESPN, which is also the network that's supposed to be showing WVa-Marshall. Steve Slaton might be fast, but C&F is relatively sure he can't warp time, which means both games are probably regional action. Or there's a misprint on the schedule. Either is possible.

Also in the lunchtime hour is Miami (FL) at Oklahoma, which is on ABC, I guess before the racin' gets underway. Oklahoma is on the way down and Miami is getting very cozy, so this could be an interesting one.

Another pair of good games begins at 3:30 p.m. ET, when Oregon travels to Michigan, (referees in tow?), looking for an improbable victory, and Boise State visits Washington to continue the divine punishment for whatever enormous sin Tyrone Willingham committed. Apparently, however the Broncos-Huskies match will be regional action on FSN; the rest of us get the thrilling tilt between Fresno State and Texas A&M. Goody.

At 5:45 p.m., one of the most underrated rivalries in the SEC begins, as South Carolina goes between the hedges at Georgia. This is a scene-setter for the race in the East. Whichever team wins this game usually goes into November with title hopes. The loser often ends up playing in Nashville, Shreveport or Memphis come late December. The match is on ESPN2.

But wait, there's more. Fifteen minutes after the USC-UGA kickoff, Notre Dame takes a trip to Penn State, likely to have unspeakable things done to it unless JoePa accidentally spills his coffee in the booth and electrocutes the entire Nittany Lions coaching staff.

The somewhat interesting games keep stacking up from there. at 6:30 p.m., there's BYU at UCLA, on Versus. The 7 p.m. hour brings us TCU at Texas on FSN, when things calm down a bit before another upset special in South Florida at Auburn hits ESPN2. I know; it's shocking. Auburn actually schedules two BCS nonconference opponents -- in a row.

Then, a day that began early ends with a late game, a 9:15 p.m. showdown between Virginia Tech and LSU. Both teams are heavy favorites to at least make their conference championship games, while LSU is riding a wave of national-title publicity. Even if their coach is -- there's no kind way to say it -- one of the dumbest coaches in America. Bengals in the bayou at night? Trouble for the Hokies, C&F says.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007


It is against the Gamecock fan creed to call anything a sure win. Mostly because, when the Gamecocks are involved, there is no such thing as a sure win.

United States vs. Yugoslavia? Sure win. Goat vs. the Cubs? Sure win. South Carolina vs. any team whose players have operative use of at least two limbs? We'll see.

With Steve Spurrier at the helm, the Gamecocks should feel relatively comfortable that Louisiana-Lafayette will end up in the win column. But we take a look at the Ragin' Cajuns anyway, mostly because not doing so would almost ensure defeat. It's called tempting fate.

You wouldn't do this, either. Never mind.

In 2006, the Ragin' Cajuns' strategy was fairly simple: Run. The Cajuns attempted 276 passes last season, completed 51.4 percent of those, and must replace their starting QB this year. Which means their strategy this year should be: Run.

This brings us to Tyrell Fenroy, a likely all-conference back (at least if TSN is to be believed, and C&F sees no reason to doubt it), who rushed for 1,197 yards and 10 TDs, picking up 5.4 yards a carry. He was a key reason Louisiana-Lafayette outrushed opponents by more than 700 yards in 2006 (2,264-1,522).

BCS teams, though, seemed to be able to contain Fenroy and Co., with LSU holding the Cajuns to 113 yards on the ground and Texas A&M slowing them down enough to keep rushing yardage at 154.

The run has been a problem for South Carolina the last two years, but there is reason to believe that will improve this season. ADVANTAGE: GAMECOCKS

On the defensive side of the ball, no immediate playmakers from the last campaign stand out, though DE Rodney Hardeway returns to try to improve on his 9 TFL and 5 sacks.

All opponents meted out 331 yards a game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Accordingly, BCS opponents lit the Cajuns up. LSU rushed for 170 yards and 3 TDs and passed for another 299 yards and three scores. Texas A&M piled up 225 yards on the ground to go with 5 TDs, while the passing game added 271 yards and 2 TDs. The Cajuns get DC Kevin Fouquier from Florida International, but it should be too little too late for this game. ADVANTAGE: GAMECOCKS

As far as special teams, neither the Cajuns nor South Carolina did anything worthy of noting. But USC didn't impress in the SEC. Louisiana-Lafayette fails to stand out in the Sun Belt. ADVANTAGE: GAMECOCKS

So this is as close as things come to a sure win for the Gamecocks. You would think.

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Disclaimer: Not No. 756.

I am not one of those who believes that Barry Bonds did what he did honestly, or that he is in any way fit to take the crown from Hank Aaron. The second of those two sentiments, about the man who will always to me be "The Home Run King" (even if the record is later broken cleanly), has only grown stronger since I moved to Atlanta.

But the chase is over. Barry Bonds has hit more home runs than any other man in the history of professional baseball. Through fair means or foul, that is an accomplishment.

And as he paid homage to the fans, his opponent and -- on the verge of tears -- his father, Barry Bonds took on a dimension I had rarely seen before, a quality I had never noticed.

He seemed human. Not larger than life. Not a villain. Not a hero. Just a man.

And it touched me. Not the same way it would have had Ken Griffey Jr. been the one to break the record, or if Alex Rodriguez breaks it in the future. But it touched me.

I guess, in some way, that's worth something.


Monday, August 06, 2007


Week 1 of the college football season is sort of like your first day out of jail. You'll hit on the first woman you see. Even if it's Mildred in accounting, the bespectacled 20-something who spends all night watching The Bachelor on demand and sobbing over its beautiful romance.

Or even her.

But fear not, college football fans. No, the schedulers never put a Jessica Alba out there, but rarely is Mildred to be seen. Instead, rate the beginning of the season a Katie Holmes -- cute, even if she is a little bit spacey and has a kind of a creepy, stalkerish husband out there. Yeah, you'll hit on her gladly, but with no expectation it will go anywhere, in part because it would be wrong, in part because of the creepy husband and in part because she believes spirits sprang from volcanoes millions of years ago. (Sadly, I'm not making this up.)

The first nationally televised game of the season begins at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, Aug. 30, when Tulsa goes to Louisiana-Monroe. This game, for some odd reason, is on ESPN2, despite airing at the same time as Miami (OH) at Ball State, a game that at least has a chance of not putting you to sleep. If you're home by 7 p.m. (i.e., you don't live in Atlanta), watch this game to warm up.

But the real game that night is LSU at Mississippi State, which kicks off one hour later. Besides the fact that this is the first "real," nationally televised game of the season, there are a few reasons to watch it. First, to see if Matt Flynn can hang 40 on a team not named Miami. Second, to see just how scary good LSU's defense is going to be. And third, to see if this is the week that Sly Croom's voice actually causes the stadium to implode.

If Les Miles is rendered unable to speak, millions will thank you.

At the same time on Friday, there is a forgettable game between Washington and Syracuse. Forgettable because, let's face it, both of these teams will be forgotten by October.

But, ah, Saturday, that is when the games get underway for real. The Colorado/Colorado State rivarly matchup at 12:30 p.m. ET is on FSN. Yeah, it's a game between two teams that are going nowhere fast, but it's a rivalry, so it can tide you over.

At 3:30 p.m. ET, the day begins in earnest. On NBC is Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, in which we will find out if Gaileyball has lost its magical ability to leave us awed at the sheer volume of its underachievement. At the same time, ABC airs Wake Forest at Boston College (at least in the ACC region), a game that could give us a good clue as to whether Boston College is going to be a contender this year and whether Wake Forest was a one-year wonder or an underdog with staying power.

The 5:30 p.m. matchup, when Arizona travels to BYU, could be an intriguing matchups between a couple of dark horses -- 'Zona to compete in the Pac-10, BYU to maybepossiblywithahalfdozenbreaks get into a BCS game. That game is on Versus, which is actually a network. They're the folks that do hockey.

At 6:45 p.m., Georgia hosts Oklahoma State in what is becoming a popular upset alert. That game is on ESPN2.

The prime-time slate is a mix of intriguing and flat-out good. Kansas State goes to Auburn at 7:45 p.m. That's right, both Auburn and Kansas State have scheduled a nonconference game against a BCS foe. The same week, even.

Then, at 8 p.m. on ABC, we get the marquee matchup of the night: TENNESSEE AT CALIFORNIA. Both of these teams have been tantalizing at times the last few years, even good at moments. Tennessee is a team that has stagnated in the last three or four seasons, though, while Cal is the team that is always on the upswing, but never able to cross the mountain.

There are more games on throughout the day, but those are the good ones. Not bad for a first day of college football. Just enough to get you interested in the weeks yet to come.

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The sportstainment storyline on the Gamecocks' defense, should it excel, was set to be twins. The Brinkley duo of Casper and Jasper (above) were set to lead the linebacking corps, while Dustin and Jordin Lindsey were projected to be backup MLB and starting DE, respectively.

You could almost read the headlines and hear the cutesy ESPN lead-ins. "It's raining twins." "Twice as nice for South Carolina." Etc.

That storyline has taken a bit of a hit recently, as the Lindsey twins are on thin ice academically. That would include Dustin, who's already flunked out once. (And our admissions standards are too high? Just what, exactly, constitute "standards" at the NCAA? "Show me your hand. Okay, you qualify.")

In any case, the Brinkley twins are nonetheless expected to play, and will be the tough core to what should be a strong Gamecocks defense. Between them, Casper and Jasper logged fully 30 percent of the team's tackles for loss last year and 38.7 percent of USC's sacks. Jasper not only lead the team with 107 tackles, he had more than twice as many as the next player. (Marvin Sapp, 51.)

From one end to the other, though, the defense is expected to be good. Real good. Not '92 Alabama good or '06 Florida good, but good all the same. That is key to an offense that, with Blake Mitchell at the helm, could be the football equivalent of devouring French fries drenched in mayo and heading for the nearest roller coaster. Possibly fun, or possibly an experience that will earn you a lifetime ban from Six Flags. By the way -- six-year-olds are loudmouths about things like that. Just saying.

Skip the French fries. Trust C&F on this one.

The line, even sans J-Lindsey, includes promising young players like Eric Norwood and Ladi Ajiboye, a true freshman. CB Captain Munnerlyn, who grabbed two interceptions in limited playing time last year, should be a key part of the secondary, with CB Carlos Thomas lining up opposite Munnerlyn. Safeties Brandon Isaac and Emanuel Cook shared the spring most improved honors for their position.

Not that the fact that South Carolina's defense should be a top-notch unit this year should suprise anyone. Last season, they held opponents to an average of 18.7 points a game -- including surrendering just 19 at eventual national champion Florida. Sure, they gave up 146.8 yards a game on the ground, but limited opponents to just 190 yards through the air and had one more interception (14) than passing touchdowns allowed (13). They also held opponents to a 37 percent third-down conversion rate.

Inconsistency, though, hobbled the unit at times. Clemson scored 28, Arkansas scored 26 and Tennessee put up 31. None of those numbers are black marks when you look at the offenses involved and the sometimes bizarre bounces that went against South Carolina, but the standards change when you start talking about competing for conference crowns.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix has always impressed C&F. It's something about his demeanor, the way he carries himself and (most of all) the huge difference once he began calling the shots part of the way through the 2005 season. How much longer before some other school snatches him up as a head coach? I don't know; ask Charlie Strong how easy it is for a black man to become a head coach in the NCAA by simply fielding quality defenses year in and year out.

I'm not dropping this until somebody gives him a job.

C&F is not sure that the defense is a make-or-break proposition for a successful season this year. But he does believe the difference between a good defense and a great defense could be the difference between a return to the Liberty Bowl and Spurrier's goal of contending for an SEC title.

If that happens, all the ESPN, Sports Illustrated and USA Today puns will be well worth it.

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Take a step back. Breathe. There, isn't the world beautiful?

The media has been going crazy over Steve Spurrier's threat to leave if no changes are made to the admissions process, and rightly so. When a legendary coach says he might bolt a ... well, not legendary program, fans and beat writers get a bit antsy.

Well, it's okay, because the South Carolina board of trustees is on the case. There also seems to be a sense on the board -- judging from their comments -- that this wasn't something that no one was aware of until Sunday.

Dr. Eddie Floyd, a former chairman of the board, said USC had "adequate" warning this was a problem and that it was "a failure of leadership" to correct it.
Floyd said he didn't know if that failure was that of USC president Andrew Sorensen, USC provost Mark Becker or athletic director Eric Hyman.
"This is an academic problem," said trustee Othniel Wienges, chairman of the Intercollegiate Activities Committee. "Coach shouldn't have to say anything."
Herbert Adams, chairman of USC's board of trustees, said changes should be
made and that he expected they would be.
"I talked with the president, and he said basically what they're trying to do is get a little quicker read on kids so they don't waste the coach's time and not waste the athlete's time," Adams said.

But even if no one was taking action immediately, it might not be the end of the world. Let's take a look at the actual text of what Spurrier said. All of it can be found here. Like the beat writers, I've excerpted things, but a bit more fully and with different emphasis.

The president has already told me how we're going to change how we do admissions here, but I think we need to get it out to the high school coaches and the players out there that this is not going to happen again. As a head coach, one of the big things I've always tried to follow, in a player-coach relationship, honesty has to be the centerpiece of everything you have to do with your players. And it starts when you recruit them. ... But we had a plan in place that if we oversigned, there's a perception out there that South Carolina oversigned and that they are just getting rid of guys, and that's not true. That's not true on our coaching staff. We had a plan in place to grayshirt if they all qualified. ... Again, I'm not criticizing the president, he said we're going to change how we do it. We're going to change, but for our creditibility, mine and the coaching staff, I just want the high school coaches, the parents of the players and all of them to know that that's not going to happen here if I continue to be the coach, and I plan on being the coach here a long time. ... We suffered a severe blow cred[i]bility wise around North Carolina, Anson County, where Michael Bowman is from, and Jacksonville, FL where Arkee Smith is from. I'm trying to do what I can to help that right now and to try to restore whatever credibility that we can get in those schools. As long as I'm the coach here, we're going to take guys that qualify. If not, then I'm going to have to go somewhere else because I can't tell a young man you come to school here, he qualifies, and not do that. [EMPHASIS C&F's]

This is what it looks like to C&F: Spurrier was trying to get the word out that this won't happen again, something he repeatedly stressed. In order to get that word out, Spurrier had to make sure that people took notice. One way to do that -- whether you're serious about it or not, and C&F thinks he is -- is to say that you'll quit if things don't change. Spurrier recognized the enormous rumor mill that was generated when we thought he might be talking to Alabama, and knew which button to push. Mission accomplished.

Again, C&F thinks the threat wasn't an empty one. But look at what Spurrier says: Sorensen "has already told me how we're going to change how we do admissions here." That's a key phrasing. If Sorensen tells Spurrier that the school is going to change the process, that still means the details have to be ironed out. Telling HBC how the process is going to change is another matter.

True, C&F might be parsing the words too closely on that one. But it appears that Spurrier wasn't trying to issue an ultimatum, at least not one he expected to have to act on. Instead, he seems to be saying: "Don't bail out on this." It's an insurance policy. And, most importantly, it shows the high school coaches and players who might wonder what's going on at South Carolina that Spurrier is dead serious about this.

C&F isn't oblivious to the potential for this to blow up. But he feels much better about it than he did several hours ago.

--A kicking Colquitt is looking to take over all the leg-related duties at Tennessee. Meanwhile, the TFP and Fulmer take coach-speak to an extreme.

Fulmer mentioned there were several confrontations on Sunday because of the high energy.
"They are trying to take the challenge that's out there for them," Fulmer said. "J.T. is leading the way and him and Demonté both had really good days today. That's encouraging as heck."

Fulmer also calls World War I "fisticuffs on the continent."

Gentlemen, gentlemen: Stop this confrontation.

--Wisconsin RB Lance Smith is back on the team despite pleading guilty to two misdemeanors that could lead to nine months in the clink. The charges againt Smith include pushing his girlfriend, keeping her in his apartment against his will and taking ... her shoes? He does know how hard it is to run in heels, right?
--Notre Dame will have a QB this year. Shhhhh. It's a secret.
--Less of a secret is what Derrell Hand was up to Thursday afternoon. That would be soliciting a prostitute. Allegedly, of course. Man, there's more and more competition to prove who can do the most creative thing with scholarship money.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007


Back when C&F created The Thread -- has it really been a week? -- he intended it mostly to be a way to handle non-South Carolina stories on a daily basis. Alas, he has 43 preview items(!) he intends to complete by Aug. 25, meaning the number of other posts has to be seriously curtailed.

Overwhelmed? No, not at all.

So The Thread will be handling both for a while. This post is mostly to catch up on several South Carolina stories that have cropped in the past few days, the most ominous being a flare-up that has Steve Spurrier threatening to leave the Gamecocks. (HT: Leftover Hot Dog)

University of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday the school's administration has promised to make changes in the admissions process in the wake of two football recruits being denied admission.
And Spurrier raised the specter of his leaving if changes were not made, although he quickly added he hoped to be at USC for years to come.
"As long as I'm the coach here, we're going to take guys that qualify (academically under NCAA guidelines)," Spurrier said. "If not, than I'll have to go somewhere else because I can't tell a young man, 'You come to school here," he qualifies and not do that. And we did that this year."


C&F has never put much stock in outsiders who say, "Spurrier is frustrated with losing at South Carolina (or not winning enough) and would love to leave," because they seem to overlook the fact that Spurrier said when he came to USC that he wanted the challenge.

This, though, is something different. This is Spurrier apparently so frustrated over obstacles to getting the pieces he needs to South Carolina that he's willing to leave if the administration tells him he has to coach with one hand tied behind his back.

Spurrier's frustration -- and the reasons for it -- are even clearer in Person's story on the subject.

Speaking for 3½ minutes on the topic, Spurrier punctuated his points by jabbing his eyeglasses in the air. Though he carried a page of handwritten remarks to the microphone, he never referred to them. ...
"In my opinion, we made a mistake in doing this. I'm not criticizing the president. He said we're going to change how we do it. But for our credibility -- mine and the coaching staff -- I just want the high school coaches, the parents of players and all them to know -- that that's not going to happen here if I continue to be the coach," said Spurrier, who agreed to a contract extension last year that gave him a $500,000 raise and keeps him at USC through the 2012 season.
"I plan on being the coach here a long time. We can have a heckuva big-time college football program here at South Carolina if we want to do things the right way," Spurrier added. "Hopefully, and I truly believe this is the last year this is going to happen because I can't operate like that. I can't operate misleading young men."

The dispute here seems to key in on one thing: Spurrier doesn't want to have to explain to people that he recruited them, got them cleared by the NCAA, then hit a speed bump when it came to actual admissions. And it's not just embarassing to the program in the areas where it happens -- it's a nationwide embarassment when every other day brings reports that players are academically ineligible for South Carolina.

The first question that comes to mind is, if these recruits are being pursued by big-time programs (and they are), why are these players having a problem getting into USC that seems to go beyond what they would face elsewhere? Let's face it, and C&F says this while being a proud alumnus of the University of South Carolina: Our admissions standards have never been the most stringent in the country. And it's not as if Spurrier has a reputation for recruiting vagrants and vandals. So what gives?

No, USC should not sacrifice nascent changes in academic respectability to satisfy the demands of the athletics department. But this seems to go beyond that. And if it needs to be changed to keep Spurrier at South Carolina, the school needs to do it. He's trying to build a winner -- the right way. We might not get this chance again.

--The Lindsey twins are in trouble, Garcia and Richardson are back, Blake returns after being barred from practice for a day. Got that? Not that Blake's out of the woods yet. "Spurrier also declined to answer a question about Mitchell's leadership, but he said the situation has not affected his spot on the depth chart." Looks like Sorensen isn't the only guy HBC is upset with.
--Coaches cracking down on players. C&F loves it. Best part of Person's post: "Lawing, a veteran coach who had a previous stint at USC under Sparky Woods and Brad Scott, never went ballistic and kept the cursing to a minimum."

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