Each week, Dan Rubenstein, Ty Hildenbrandt and Jacob Osterhout will jump on e-mail and riff about various subjects in the news offered up by SI.com's Jimmy Traina.
Traina: Since we have the Solid Verbal cohosts here, and this week's Sports Illustrated is the College Football Preview, tell me who you think will be playing in the national title game and who will win.
Hildenbrandt: Florida is the consensus No. 1 team, and really, if you pick anyone other than the Gators to win the BCS Championship, you're either biased or just trying to be different. Of course, strong cases could be made for Texas, Oklahoma, USC and maybe even an outlier from the Big Ten (if it's still allowed in the BCS Championship discussion), but I just don't see how anyone can bet against Florida. This is a team virtually intact from last season's championship run and has a favorable SEC schedule to boot. It's sad to say, but I probably have more questions about Tim Tebow's virginity than I do about Florida's chances of winning its third title in four years. Regarding Florida's opponent, I'll take Texas and hope that we see the kind of championship game we saw the last time the Longhorns made a BCS Championship game. I like Texas to take down Oklahoma again this season, and if the Longhorns can slip past a sneaky-good Oklahoma State team, I think they'll be on the fast track to the title game.
Rubenstein: Since Florida and Texas both have roughly one-and-a-half tough road games and avoid league contenders in opposite conference divisions, the obstacles are minimal for UF/Texas. I like the Gators to win, and I don't think it'll be close. I even bored myself with this answer, but it's all I've got right now. And yes, I realize Texas is always good for 1-2 bonehead losses per season.
Osterhout: My first inclination, based on preseason hype, would be to say that Tim Tebow will be playing Tim Tebow in the national title game. I have never seen the media fawn over a player like I have with Tebow. He is some sick combination of everything that is good and righteous in this world. If you didn't know anything more than what you read online, you'd think that Tebow had already won this season's title. Other than the defending champs, I really like Alabama's chances this season. Every year that Nick Saban sticks around, the Tide grow stronger. Don't forget that last season, Alabama was beating Florida in the SEC championship game heading into the fourth quarter. This season, I think it'll have a better shot at sealing the deal.
Rubenstein: People do seem to be writing off the Tide, but you can't overstate the value of having a strong infrastructure if you're looking to compete to be in the top two perennially. Alabama has that. It lost offensive linemen and its starting backfield, but everyone's just going to kill each other in the SEC, so who knows. Also, the more I think about it, the more Florida will definitely lose a regular-season game. There's too much certainty about the Gators for them to run the table. Of course by saying this, I've clinched zero losses for UF.
Hildenbrandt: I've also seen some publications that are extremely, perhaps mistakenly, high on Ole Miss. You might remember that the Rebels were the only team to topple Florida in 2008, and there is much excitement about what Houston Nutt can do with another year of Jevan Snead. Plus, the Rebels get most of their tough SEC games at home, which is always advantageous. Personally, I'm just hoping to see Nutt down Texas in a bowl game so that he can do the upside-down "hook 'em horns" symbol to the crowd like he did when his Arkansas team beat the Longhorns a few years back.
Osterhout: I'm going to throw this out there knowing that many football fans in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Southern California and Florida will disagree with me, but the domination of a few teams in college football saps the excitement and intrigue out of the season for fans of programs that aren't powerhouses. As Ty pointed out, you really can't answer Jimmy's first question honestly if you don't include Florida in the title game, and other than that, there are only a few teams that legitimately have a shot of competing for a national championship. Maybe this is an East Coast complaint, but I just don't see any underdogs rising as the season progresses and that kind of gets me down.
Rubenstein: I agree, there's no sport with more of a hierarchy than college football. It makes it great and it makes it boring all at the same time. As soon as one of the five or six elite teams falls for whatever reason (sanctions, bad coaching hire, etc.), Miami, Florida State or Nebraska will once again swoop in. The personalities and stages of the major programs are always entertaining, but I can see how it can seem redundant after a while.
Traina: Next topic: Can the Red Sox come back and win the AL East?
Rubenstein: It feels like they're a wild-card team right now, which is probably the way Sox fans like it. You can't have a nine-figure payroll and call yourselves an underdog, but it just sort of fits for Boston. The Yankees appear to be in driver's seat in the East, but as far as I can tell, even Yankee fans don't fully trust anything about this team beyond Mariano Rivera and possibly Mark Teixeira.
Osterhout: Judging from the way Yankees fans are wandering around NYC with their chests all puffed out, you'd think the AL East race was over. But it's not. Since when does baseball matter in the beginning of August? The Yankees and Red Sox play each other six more times before the season ends. No doubt the Yankees have a leg up right now, but there's still a lot of baseball to be played.
Rubenstein: Boston still has at least one more run in it and there are plenty of reasons why the Yankees still have time to implode down the stretch. Say what you will, but this is still a team that trots out Sergio Mitre every few days.
Hildenbrandt: True, but let's not christen the Red Sox as having a bulletproof rotation, either. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have been solid, but Brad Penny has an ERA north of 5.00, and the Clay Buchholz experiment isn't working out much better. And, when you replace John Smoltz with some guy named Junichi Tazawa, I think there's also reason for concern. As a whole, I feel better about CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, Andy Pettitte and Mitre.
Osterhout: I will say this: I don't see Big Papi suddenly regaining his old form. The man just can't catch up to a fastball. I think Boston will have to sit him if it's going to have a chance. Sad, but at least he came out with a great 100 percent natural hot sauce before losing his bat speed. I've got two bottles of the stuff sitting on my desk as we speak/write.
Hildenbrandt: I do believe that the Red Sox can come back in the AL East ... that is, if the rest of the team can get its hands on Big Papi's magical eye drops from earlier this season. Otherwise, you have to like the Yankees to coast to victory in the AL East. It's been a long time since this team PITCHED its way to victory and didn't try SLUGGING its way to victory. Big difference. Plus, A-Rod's starting to hit clutch home runs and not just solo bombs in throwaway games. It's like bizarro world.
Osterhout: Right now, Kate Hudson is a good-luck charm, but in a month she could be a bad omen. This is New York City we're talking about. Things change fast around there.
Rubenstein: Between the Sox losing their first games of the season to the Yankees via sweep and the weirdness that has been the seasons of David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, the division coming down to the last week of the season feels appropriate. By the way, a relationship with Kate Hudson has led to the following: Lance Armstrong lost the Tour de France, the Black Crowes are still a band nobody listens to and, finally, Drillbit Taylor was produced.
Hildenbrandt: Figures that the Yanks would ditch the Curse of Alyssa Milano by letting go of Carl Pavano, and inherit the Curse of Kate Hudson. That sounds about right.
Traina: Sticking with the baseball theme, SI.com launched a "25 Things We Miss In Baseballl" package today. What do you miss most about baseball from your days as a youth?
Hildenbrandt: That's easy: baseball cards that aren't digitally remastered through complicated filters and algorithms found within Adobe Photoshop. Those were the best. Nowadays, everything has a nice, glossy finish -- oh, how I long for the days of cheap-looking Topps cards featuring Chet Lemon and Archi Cianfrocco. I also miss the Milwaukee Brewers' old uniforms, rambling commentary from Phil Rizzuto, Tom Henke's glasses and the foam-fronted trucker hats my "Tigers" team wore in 1991 while clinching the Northampton Pee Wee Baseball Championship.
Rubenstein: I miss not knowing anything about any of the players other than what I saw on the back of cards or in the giant stat table the Los Angeles Times printed in the Sunday sports page. Staring at the stat lines for every eligible player until my eyes glazed over used to be the highlight of my week. The Internet gives me any crazy stat I want in under five seconds, but somehow, it's not the same.
Hildenbrandt: I also miss the halcyon days of the mid-'90s when the Yankees were built around hitters and not sluggers. Back then, it was kosher to have a role player in the everyday lineup; now, unless they've got a superstar at every position, people seem outraged.
Osterhout: I miss the stale pieces of gum in packs of Topps baseball cards. I miss the bucket hats that the Pittsburgh Pirates used to wear. I miss getting my Beckett magazine in the mail. I miss Julio Franco's batting stance. And I miss the "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie" chants at Memorial Stadium.
Rubenstein: I miss stirrups. I loved wearing stirrups. Never understood the point, but nothing was better than pulling baseball pants over some taut stirrups (with or without the upper stripes). The old Angels logo and stadium (in the Big A days), multiple knuckleballers pitching into their late 60s and jumbo TV graphics devoid of dancing robots were also highlights. I could go on and on.
Osterhout: I miss learning to throw a curveball without ever actually being able to throw a curveball. I'd throw the pitch and when gravity took hold of the ball, I'd say, "See, it curved." Needless to say, I was repositioned to second fairly quickly.
Rubenstein: I agree with the cards thing. Topps and Donruss were the solid, working-man's brands -- you could package some of your better Topps or Donruss cards for some standout Bowman or Upper Deck selections. As soon as things started getting glossy and the prices shot through the roof, that's when things changed for the worse.
Hildenbrandt: I miss the inordinate amount of buzz that was generated in the Philly area over Dickie Thon and Von Hayes, two of the greatest baseball names ever. I also miss the giant feud that Phillies fans had with J.D. Drew. I'll never forget watching in amusement as a fan lit an anti-Drew doll on fire and zoomed around Veterans Stadium, evading security guards for at least 10 minutes.
Rubenstein: OK, I'll go on and on. Even though I never went to any of them, those old, perfectly circular stadiums that had AstroTurf always seemed cool to me. It wasn't until recently that I found out that playing in those stadiums was hellacious because of knee injuries and that, thanks to the turf absorbing the summer heat, it got to roughly 138 degrees on the field during August in Cincinnati or St Louis. Good times.
Traina: Last question: With Paula Abdul now looking for a job, what would be the ideal sports job for her?
Hildenbrandt: General manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. You have to figure that job will be open soon. Her ability to judge talent is, arguably, on the same plane as J.P. Ricciardi's. She could be as crazy as she wanted and still avoid the headaches of being in American tabloids. At the very least, she'd put together the best 81-game slate of Oh, Canada performers ever assembled.
Rubenstein: I'd like her to be secretly hired by college football prospects to show up at the combine and just spew nonsense about how beautiful the journey of a player's 40-yard dash has been and just how unique and special his 14-inch vertical really is. Sort of an undercover hype-woman.
Hildenbrandt: That's the real skill of Paula Abdul: her ability to completely avoid a topic and focus on pretty things. Maybe she could be A-Rod's new psychologist.
Osterhout: This is going to sound sick, but I think we should pair up Paula with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver and just let her run her mouth. That would be an amazing social experiment. I mean, general consensus is that nobody can be as full of hot air as McCarver, but Paula might give him a run for his money. She probably would have some pretty insightful things to say about player uniforms and facial hair. If that doesn't work out, she could take over for that poor Nationals ballgirl who tried, and failed, to field that fair ball the other day.
Hildenbrandt: Yes! Broadcasting would be phenomenal. I can totally see her as the female equivalent of Jason Bateman in Dodgeball.
Rubenstein: I see her more in a Fred WillardBest in Show role if she were to join a broadcast team. Just randomly using words she hears in play-by-play sentences: "Stole a base? Why? Oh, no!!"
Dan Rubenstein hosts and produces the SI Tour Guy video series for SI.com and co-hosts The Solid Verbal podcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ty Hildenbrandt writes for SI.com and co-hosts The Solid Verbal podcast. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter. Jacob E. Osterhout is a features reporter for the New York Daily News and a former writer for Sports Illustrated On Campus. His work can also be found at the College Sports Examiner.
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