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Saturday, January 17, 2009

And don't forget, Sandsday Mail Call next week!

There's a story behind today's strip, and it has nothing to do with Patrick McGoohan.

When I did a Gary Gygax tribute last year, I told myself that when other sufficiently geeky notable figures (or sufficiently notable figures period) died, I would do similar tributes to them. I did that to reassure myself, because even though numerous other webcomics, including such highlights as Penny Arcade and xkcd, did similar tributes, the fact remained that the only reason I was doing a Gary Gygax tribute was because Order of the Stick did one. Order of the Stick never does topical strips; the closest it comes tends to be throwaway references in early panels. Still, the fact remained that I was effectively letting OOTS write my strip, and I was able to live with myself better if I told myself that was not going to be the only time, that I had more in store.

I did not. By all rights I should have done strips on the passing of George Carlin or even Eartha Kitt. Nonetheless, I still let that Gary Gygax strip stand alone as my only tribute to a dead figure, one created solely to mimic another webcomic, and I decided not to let that stand by the time one year had passed since it was published, and before the one-year anniversary of the strip itself if possible.

Not to sound flip, but I debated about doing a strip about Ricardo Montalban and was starting to regretfully lean towards no before McGoohan died - saved me, you might say - and while he was still a marginal case for having the right combination of geekiness and notability, I decided that "The Prisoner" was close enough. It helped that I had a strip I was unhappy about (it's really incredibly disgusting and I need to take a hatchet to it before before I'm comfortable posting it) that I was hoping to bump out of the rotation. Besides, he passes the xkcd test, in that I'd be shocked if xkcd doesn't have its own tribute up by Monday. It's right up Randall Munroe's alley!

Also, while I'm here, I do not condone anyone using this strip to start wild McGoohan/Elvis/Hoffa theories. Or even getting the idea from this post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Part of the reason I'm making this post is for the same reason as yesterday's IWC post.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized crash landing.)

So the latest "Ethan McManus: Space Archaeologist" storyline is finally over, and I've gone back and read through the whole thing.

In light of recent events in the main story line, Ethan's characterization in this story is rather interesting.

First of all, the decisions made by the CAD fans are themselves rather interesting; the first decision was between skipping out on a bill for destroying another clone when coming out of his own clone vat, and simply negotiating for a solution. Now, the Ethan I know, at least from the first story, would probably skip out on the bill, but the fans voted for him to try and negotiate on a solution (which led to him hitting on a robot), and I can't help but wonder if that affected his characterization for the rest of the story.

First, Ethan is far more talkative than I would normally perceive him to be. Of course, one of the knocks against CAD is Buckley's penchant for loading up his panels with dialogue, but even when the real Ethan talks a lot it tends to be in relatively simple terms. Here he lays on the exposition with the best of them. And when he needs to, he's rather combative and can lay on the bad puns. For once I could actually see how Ethan could have wound up in the job of an Indiana Jones ripoff. (IN SPACE!)

In the latest news post, Buckley notes he was shocked that, "given Ethan's broken arm and general ineptitude," the fans would (in the last choice) vote for him to sneak out of the mercenary ship on his own rather than wait for his helper robot. I suspect two factors went into the decision that Buckley didn't plan for: the fact that, with his "general ineptitude", Ethan himself would probably fight it out... and paradoxically, the fact that Ethan didn't really show much of that "ineptitude" over the course of this story.

Granted, it's been a while since I've seen any other version of Ethan, and negotiating with people who want to kill you and engaging in an expository conversation in a sci-fi setting don't necessarily translate to playing video games and dealing with customers, but it'll be interesting to see if this presages the arrival of a more "responsible" Ethan when we return to the main plot, perhaps one cooked up in response to some of the CAD haters' complaints.

Though depending on the execution, that could move the Angst-O-Meter up or down...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No comment on Darths and Droids finishing Episode One.

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized better things to do.)
Getting this out of the way so I don't have to worry about making sure I get a post out for the rest of the day...

So after about a week of whiteness fading to blueness fading to redness fading to blackness, the entire sequence led to the blackness turning out to be the Head Death's eye. Despite what most people probably expected, it wasn't the birth pangs of a new universe; instead, everyone is hanging out on the Not-So-Infinite and Not-So-Featureless Infinite Featureless Plane of Death, which survived the death of the universe.

This helps explain the themes that were and were not part of this crossover... as Supers is hand-drawn, even if it had crossed over with anything it'd be impossible for it to mesh with all the LEGO figures in this sequence. But Espionage has been seen to use the IFPoD as well, even if it's interacted with no other themes and even if getting roped into this crossover would delay the main plot too much.

There's still some question as to what will happen next... will everyone ultimately get returned to some revival of their universe? Is the rest of the strip just going to be various misadventures in whatever comes after the IFPoD? Wait... what if what comes after the IFPoD is just a carbon copy of the previous universe and everything proceeds as if nothing happened, yet something happened?

My head hurts...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A note on webcomics popularity as it relates to Da Blog

Extracted from today's Fey Winds review, as the review was maybe twice the size of any of my other reviews, half of it was about Buzzcomix, and this part in particular was off-point.

I have started to develop a theory that there are three basic tiers of webcomic popularity. Tier 1 comics are generally the comics you rattle off when prompted with the word "webcomic". Penny Arcade. Something Positive. Sluggy Freelance. Order of the Stick. xkcd. Dinosaur Comics. Megatokyo. Even relatively smaller comics like Gunnerkrigg Court and Irregular Webcomic! Tier 1 is very wide - no one would compare, say, The Wotch with Penny Arcade by any measure, but I put it in Tier 1 anyway because it doesn't need to advertise on sites like Buzzcomix and If it's selling T-shirts and people are actually buying them, it's probably pretty safely a Tier 1 comic.

Tier 2 comics are those comics that regularly populate the top of sites like Buzzcomix and TopWebComics. They're not popular enough to stop pressuring people to vote for them, but they are popular enough that they get a lot of votes. While it would be nice to get a nice, orderly ranking of the top webcomics in all of webcomicdom from these sites, practically speaking there's little motivating Gabe and Tycho to ask that much work from their fans, even for the bragging rights. Instead Buzzcomix and the like are actually far more useful to people not in my unique situation (needing ideas for webcomic reviews), pointing people towards good webcomics that have attracted a small, but devoted following, but which have not yet achieved the popularity to go beyond that but are well on the road to doing so. This group is very small; I don't define it as going beyond even the top 50 of these sites, if even that (probably top 25 should be the cutoff, at most), but Fey Winds pretty clearly belongs to it.

(Rather anomolously, Girl Genius is a Tier 1 comic that still receives Buzzcomix and TopWebComics votes. Goblins' recent success against it on Buzzcomix suggests it too may be moving into Tier 1.)

Tier 3 comics are everything else; these include, but are not limited to, the comics that feel the need to regularly change their status lines. It too is very large, including everything from comics seen only by their creators and some friends to comics with a close-knit group of people backing it. In some instances, the only thing keeping a Tier 3 comic from being Tier 2 is just not putting themselves on Buzzcomix (to the extent that some strips could easily blur the line between Tier 3 and Tier 1). In fact, the size of Tiers 1 and 3 compared to Tier 2 is such that I should and probably could divide both 1 and 3 into one or more pieces, and there probably is some "Hall of Fame" subclass within Tier 1. (And it's very subjective; I consider Misfile a Tier 1 comic because of when I was introduced to it, but it might belong better in Tier 2.)

But this is a distinction that works for my purposes, and it's clear that Buzzcomix popularity is a stop along the continuum to becoming a truly great and popular webcomic. I review Tiers 1 and 2 comics for Da Blog because they meet a certain popularity threshhold (though to be in Tier 2 for that purpose Top 10 on either list might be needed), and Tier 3 tends to be taken more on a case-by-case basis, with a Tier 3 comic generally needing to be good to get the "fat envelope".

Seriously, why do so many comics I encounter have no RSS feeds? Even the venerable User Friendly and Sluggy Freelance have no RSS feeds!

(From Fey Winds. Click for full-sized tree hex of knowledge, apparently.)

I have said in the past that I do not review comics that are neither popular nor good, because they do not deserve the attention. So I'm willing to savage a webcomic if I deem it popular enough that people need to be warded away from it, but bad webcomics with no readers should be allowed to wither like they should do naturally.

The flip side is that I am willing to review a webcomic no one's heard of if I think it's fantastic. So if you want me to expose your webcomic to the masses, you can e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com. If I don't like it, you'll get a "thin envelope": an e-mail with my suggestions for you. If I do like it, or at least think it has a lot of potential, you'll get a "fat envelope": a full-sized review on Da Blog.

The thing is, Fey Winds - despite a ridiculously bare-bones site layout with nothing except a news post, some fan art, and the comic itself (no cast page, no RSS feed, no "world" page despite a promise of it on one page that required a brief description of an aspect of the world), despite having next to no exposure in the broader webcomics community that would convey that mystical quality we call "notability" - is a comic I'm reviewing because it falls in the "popular" category.

That's because I discovered Fey Winds by way of Buzzcomix.

I've talked about Buzzcomix in the past - the vote-powered webcomic ranking site (well, one of at least two), once thought completely abandoned but recently revamped back in August with a whole mess of new features. One of these was a "status" line that would appear below your comic's entry - similar to previous description lines, but with the important changes that a) you could change it without entering your profile, and more importantly, b) when you changed it, your new "status" would appear at the bottom of the screen in a running ticker alongside other webcomics that had recently changed their statuses. Which meant just by changing your status, you'd be guaranteed at least a shot at exposure for anyone who dropped by Buzzcomix for the next twenty-four hours or so. Needless to say, constantly changing statuses became a favorite fallback for several wannabe webcomiceers desperate for the sliver of exposure the line promised, and complete no-names littered the ticker, because no webcomic that already had the exposure, that was anywhere near the top of the list, would stoop to such shameless tactics. (You probably haven't noticed, but I've been changing Sandsday's status line with each new strip. :)

Word of the new Buzzcomix has spread in fits and starts, with the result that early on, there was some bumpiness in who was on top - after being fairly consistently in the upper eschelon on the old Buzzcomix, Girl Genius, to take one example, was completely missing for the first month or so - although once the Foglios and their fans got their act together, GG went right to the top and stayed there for a while. It's since been dethroned by Goblins, which at least has warranted a TV Tropes page - of course all you need for a TV Tropes page is a fan or even creator who happens to frequent the site. (Unless said creator isn't a complete self-promoting jerk.)

(I hope I haven't just made Fey Winds jump the shark by introducing Nicole Chartrand to TV Tropes.)

So, for some time, I would visit Buzzcomix to change Sandsday's status line, and on my monitor, I would always see the top three comics, and because of the vote quantities involved and how long they stick around (early in the new Buzzcomix the top of the rankings would completely shuffle around every month when the last round of votes expired, though that's already tapered off) the top three comics would stay fairly consistent: Goblins, Girl Genius... and Fey Winds.

Now, by the time I started writing this post Fey Winds had already been knocked out of the #3 spot by Misfile, Buzzcomix itself got suspended by its host a week ago and lost all the votes when it returned and FW was slow to recover, sinking all the way to #24 or so for the past week, and Fey Winds owes a lot of its Buzzcomix popularity to the use of incentives (the instant a new incentive and comic was posted Fey Winds shot back into the top 20, and my guess is it'll be back in the top 10 by the time you read this). Still, lots of webcomics use incentives to prop up voting, and they can't crack the top three. But what attracted me to Fey Winds enough to tell myself to check it out some time was not its high ranking, but its status line: "Fantasy adventure with 100% of your weekly dose of snark. Now with 50% more story!" (The second sentence has since changed to "Now on Chapter 4!")

Well this is interesting, I thought. "Fantasy adventure" with a good dose of "snark" and humor? Pray tell, had I found the new Order of the Stick (only with actual art)?

Erm... no.

First of all, the "snark" is a lie, and I accuse Nicole Chartrand of false advertising. There's some snarkiness and even pointing out of tropes in some of the very earliest strips, like in Chapter 1, but very little. As the "Now with 50% more story" line implies, Chartrand has dipped her comic headlong into Cerebus Syndrome (even though her world already had some quantity of story arc running through it, I use it here to denote that the strip has become much more serious and the stakes raised as we learn boatloads more about the characters). But that, in turn, hints at my real problem with the strip:

Fey Winds is moving its plot along way too fast.

If you intend on reading the strip for yourself later, turn away now, because I'm about to summarize the entire "intro" chapter, which explains much of the concept: Once upon a time, a sorcerer introduced... something... into a long-running, devastating war. It's unknown whether the Sylphe is "a spirit, or a construct, or the child of a god," or something else, it's just known that "armies, towns, cities, lives" fell before her, until she unexpectedly turned against her master - going against anything anyone had thought her capable of doing - and helping restore the countries she helped destroy, then disappearing, leaving only a series of powerful MacGuffins for her to be remembered by, "sought out by thieves, kings, and wholesome adventure-type folk... like us!". (Emphasis in original.)

We're then introduced to the cast: Larina, some sort of runaway from "a big elven sanctuary in the mountains" ("she never told me why she left, but then, I never asked"), who has a Stone of Possession on her forehead she picked up while investigating some sort of magical spring, which occasionally "shunts her spirit out of the way and possesses her with the soul of a random wandering ghost"; Nigel, whose story is that he's a "Kaderrian mercenary" who encountered an "ugly witch and ugly daughter on his way home from a mission", had the latter fall for him, he rejected her, and the witch cursed him to follow "someone who was a girl, but not a girl, and neither human, dwarf or elf."

That happens to describe our narrator and main character, called "Kit" by the other characters, who was (stay with me here) a fox until she attempted to raid a chicken coop belonging to a witch, who "tried to turn me into a warty were-toad. Lucky for me she was completely senile" and turned her into a humanoid instead. Larina taught her speech, gave her clothes, and told her the story of the Sylphe; Nigel (who's "a little creepy, and always seems to know what [Kit's] thinking") "taught [her] about swords and fighting - and the three of us have been traveling together for a few years since."

Did you catch all that? Good, because practically none of it (especially the mysterious parts) is still extant for the current strips. Some of it was abandoned almost immediately (for example, Larina's "possessed" self is a "fangirl" calling herself Belinda who takes over more predictably, when Larina takes some sort of blow to the head), but in order: the Sylphe is/was pretty firmly a golem; so far as I can tell, Larina has lost her gem to one of the Sylphe's makers; Nigel is actually a golem himself; and Kit somehow had the spirit of the Sylphe inside her, and her actual origin has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what we were told back in the "intro" chapter.

There are still a few lingering mysteries (why was the Sylphe able to rebel against her masters? Why did Larina flee her home in the first place?), but the general feeling is that most of the questions are resolving themselves, barely 100 comics into the strip's existence and while it's only in its fourth full chapter - as though Chartrand is losing interest and rushing to the meat of the story she wanted to get to all along. Now, it's possible - nay, likely - that what's going on here is closer to how Order of the Stick overthrew virtually its entire premise about a hundred comics into its run, and what we're seeing is only the beginning of what Fey Winds will become, not the end. It's also possible that part of the problem I'm having has to do with Fey Winds' weekly update schedule (and closer to biweekly earlier in its run), and that I need to keep in mind that Fey Winds is, after all, already over two years old. OOTS wrapped up its first book, and resulting overturning of the premise, only one year into its run!

Still, there's the pacing a strip has to consider on its own update schedule... and then there's the pacing the way a significant portion of your audience is going to read it. I'm willing to accept that for someone reading the strip as it's come out, the current events have completely shaken them out of their comfort zone and have turned Fey Winds into something completely different than they were used to. Still, I can't help but wonder (as someone who, like what could turn out to be a majority of the audience Fey Winds could still have, read the story to this point in an archive binge): couldn't Chartrand have waited just one more chapter before shaking things up? Even the start of Chapter 3, before they reach the tomb, contains a number of hints of various things that get at least partially resolved in that very chapter.

Fey Winds proper (outside the "intro" chapter) only turned two years old this November, as Chapter 4 started, and was only a year and a half old when the part of Chapter 3 that engaged in the shaking-up started. Would two years of the strip introduced in the "intro" chapter really have been too much? (This is especially important as, like Girl Genius, Fey Winds releases a page at a time no matter how trivial the page may be, and coupled with its start-of-chapter splash pages, this suggests that Chartrand has plans to release her comics in a book later, meaning even more of her audience will be reading her strip all at once.)

Besides, having read the comic since its return from holiday hiatus, I'm thinking a weekly schedule may be too slow for most people given the content-per-comic ratio. For a comic with this much plot to release at the rate it does, when some comics (even now) are little more than one-shot jokes, is almost excruciating. At least most of the time, Girl Genius has more story per page and releases on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. Order of the Stick also tends to have more story per page than at least some Fey Winds comics (until recently, updating "three times a week without warning") and people complain about it going too slow! (If Chartrand is going for the pacing of Gunnerkrigg Court, which she links on her "Links" page, it's worth noting that comic also releases on a M-W-F schedule.)

No wonder Chartrand has started moving the plot forward faster! Had she started with a decent buffer and released just two pages per week, she could have spent longer with a funnier comic, still might be further along with the plot here in early 2009 (or at least two years-plus into its run), and the ensuing story would be richer for it. And I wouldn't wonder if the "intro" chapter was completely superfluous. (Considering the changes she makes when the story begins, the "intro" chapter could have been more consistent on its own merits as well.) As it is, the weekly schedule is a hard habit to maintain without an RSS feed.

Since I've been babbling on for some time, I'll make some general comments on the strip itself to close things out quickly. First, a quick note on the content-per-comic ratio; it is certainly tempting for some beginning webcomic-makers to put as little as possible in each strip to entice repeat visitors, but it tends to be more maddening than anything else. I criticize the strip's descent into Cerebus Syndrome, but the "wacky hijinks" stage of the first two chapters wouldn't even have a chance at my RSS reader (assuming, you know, it even had an RSS feed), and the ramping into gear of the plot is really a help in that context, to the extent I'm probably going to keep following it for just the near future, if only through the very beginning of Chapter 5 to pick up on the loose threads of the end of Chapter 3. So far the plot isn't compelling enough for me to stick around longer, and more importantly the pace of updates may mean I just decide to catch up when the mood strikes me, rather than following it all along week-to-week. The brief forays into anime-inspired art for certain moments are something of a turn-off - generally, no matter what your art style is, you shouldn't shift it too often (or too much) and you should have a good reason when you do.

Fey Winds isn't bad, but once again it is crushingly mediocre. It comes off as, well, as some wannabe artist (who gives off a "valley girl" vibe in her news posts - and yes, especially considering the rest of her site, Chartrand is definitely an artist first and writer second, and we all know what that means) deciding to jump on this here "webcomics" bandwagon. I'm not saying it needs to be Order of the Stick, but there's a lot that's unpolished and somewhat amateur about it; in more refined hands, the plot could be somewhat compelling, even if the brief flashes of humor (which, especially lately, come off as unintentional and more "oh, that's kinda funny" than actually laugh-inducing) were still retained. In addition to pacing, Chartrand could stand to learn more about what comic artists call storytelling, something she seems to have gotten better at since some excruciating and confusing moments in the first two chapters. (Moments that, as with Dresden Codak, suggest that sometimes in webcomic art, less really is more.)

There's a lot of potential in Fey Winds so far; if I were judging it solely on the basis of its art it might be one of the prettiest webcomics on the Internet (and perhaps the need to make art of that quality is why FW runs on a weekly schedule when the pace of the story would seem to dictate updating more often), but then again if that were the only basis xkcd and Order of the Stick wouldn't even be in the conversation. Still, the story that's been told so far is actually pretty decent, if not yet must-see, even though those spurts of humor come off as more of a sales gimmick than as something Chartrand would do just as part of the process of writing the story (though that may be a misconception). Certainly I'm seeing no structural problems with the dialogue or anything clunky or excruciating like expospeak (this being a possible exception). But for as decent as the story is, it still falls into some beginners' traps, not the least of which is the sense I get that the eventual story was still very much a work in progress when the "intro" was posted, even besides the parts that were intended to be discarded later all along.

Fey Winds has a lot going for it, but right now it's hardly the best webcomic you're not reading (despite what some fans may claim), and it sure as hell isn't the new Order of the Stick. Or even the poor man's version.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A more optimistic view of Obama's term and our future

I think I depressed myself with my predictions for Obama's future and the future of the nation. So I want to use this space to present a more optimistic vision - a realistic optimistic vision, mind you.

Obama pulls the military out of Iraq before a year's time expires... and into Iran, which swiftly becomes a replay of Iraq. Obama compromises virtually everything the Left stands for in the stimulus package, including steps to repair the environment but not in the way Democrats would like. Obama does nothing to repair the damage done to the Constitution by the Bush Administration.

America slowly but surely pulls out of its economic funk, but very little actual "change" happens, even from the policies of the last eight years. Democrats gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2010 but lose some seats in the House. Many in the "netroots" decide to form their own nascent political movement for 2012, which attracts attention from both parties. The Republicans start to attract new attention as well, creating a climactic three-way showdown for the Presidency.

Who comes out on top... is anyone's guess.

Wait. That's still too depressing no matter what happens. Even if the new political movement wins, it will have less real experience in all its leaders combined than Obama alone, and it'll have fallen behind in the past four years. Let's try that again.

Obama enters office aware as few are of the many critical problems facing America and just how much we stand at a critical moment in American history.

Obama swiftly pulls the military out of Iraq before a year's time expires, and the country becomes relatively stable, though hardly the stablest in the region. Recognizing the immense magnitude of the problem of the environment, Obama loads over half the stimulus package with programs intended to help correct American greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of lowering those emissions as much as humanly possible by the end of his first term. The rest of the package, including new education programs, is essentially Obama's own version of the New Deal.

By 2010, America is already - slowly but surely - pulling out of its economic funk. Republicans claim it was never going to be as bad as a second Great Depression unless Obama screwed it up, but that falls on deaf ears. Many are disappointed at how little actual "change" has occured so far, as Obama has been preoccupied by the economic meltdown and tension in various foreign nations, not to mention growing into the job of President, as well as balancing economic stimulus with not becoming a vassal of China. Nonetheless the Democrats once again increase their lead in both houses of Congress.

By 2012, Obama has probably been a B president, maybe slightly worse than Clinton, which isn't really a knock on Obama. The main knock on his record is that foreign leaders seem to respect Obama the person more than America the country, but the anti-America rallies have greatly subsided, and things have mostly returned to a Clinton-era status quo, as though the years 2001-2008 never happened, although America is still aggressively pursuing terrorists, this time with greater cooperation with foreign governments and greater success. After taking greater control of Congress in 2010, Obama starts to make far greater headway on his various proposals, previously stonewalled by Republicans. With America peaceful and prosperous, and much of the damage done to the Constitution and the environment either repaired or in the process of being repaired, Obama and the Democrats win a resounding victory and the Republicans fall into disarray.

By 2014, the Republicans are no longer in the top two largest third parties in America.

How much did you like that assessment? How much did you like it compared to the other two?

Here's the important part: From the present vantage point, all three of those predictions could be equally likely to happen.

Obama could be so grossly incompetent as to fracture the country, lead to the rise of a modern Hitler, and combined with the ravages to the environment, end modern civilization as we know it. He could turn out to be a Trojan horse, Bush 2.0, who forces the Left to break with the Democrats to get their agenda moving. He could turn out to be a modern FDR who effectively kills the Republican party by contrasting his Presidency with George W. Bush's.

Any or all of those things may happen.

Republicans would probably prefer the second of these scenarios happened, maybe the first in some radical sectors (quasi-fascist areas, religious righters who think the first scenario would trigger the Second Coming). Democrats would probably prefer the third. We don't know enough about Obama to know which direction things would take if left to their own devices.

But the rest of you would not like it to be the first scenario.

Politics, much as we hate to admit it, matters. It matters in our own daily lives and those of countless others. If we don't pay attention to politics and what's happening in our world, we can be blindsided by the consequences - and we won't even know why they're happening.

But if it turns out to be the first scenario, what can be done to stop it?

The power lies with you.

You have the power to vote for the people you agree with, the people who will best represent your own interests and those of the country.

You have the power to keep yourself informed and see what's coming before it happens.

You have the power to educate yourself and make sure you're confident in the direction you think the country should take.

You have the power not to stand for it if things start to go to hell in a handbasket. Stage protests, circulate petitions, gin up opposition, do whatever you need to to stand for what you believe in.

In ten years, America could be fighting in Armageddon... or it could be in the middle of one of its biggest Golden Ages.

Your vote matters. What happens over the next 4-8 years matters.

And some fairly small differences could determine which path America takes.

The ball, right now, is in Barack Obama's court. But however he serves it back, it's far more important to determine what happens after that.

The ultimate power lies with you.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2008 Golden Bowl Tournament: Fiesta Bowl and Thoughts on the BCS

If you are going to put value on the idea of a national championship (and honestly, I've actually been wondering if we were better off under the old system when we ideally didn't care about the national championship), wouldn't you rather have the Golden Bowl over the BCS?

We have four teams with legit claims for the National Championship. So much for the BCS ending national championship uncertainty.

In the Golden Bowl Tournament? In the very first round Utah and USC faced off - in Salt Lake, in snowy, blizzardy conditions - and the Trojans still prevailed. USC then proceeded to shockingly dominate Oklahoma in another road game in the second round.

As for Florida and Texas? They settled their differences ON THE FIELD, in the Sugar Bowl. Now, next week, the two remaining teams - Florida and USC - will settle this once and for all in the Golden Bowl. And this week, I'll post the final college football rankings. Florida's #1, and holds one of what's now two lineal titles, so next week we'll see if they can claim the Grand Slam. (BCS title, #1 in my rankings, holding any lineal title but preferably Princeton-Yale, and Golden Bowl title.)

But first, we have a Fiesta Bowl to take care of... (I'm wondering if it's worth it to have this game. The Golden Bowl Tournament already lengthens the regular season, and while I had told myself that as long as I was adding four games for the Golden Bowl participants, there was little reason not to add two more teams in that group, the fact is that it IS one more game and it's a little masturbatory. On the other hand, if the point of keeping the bowls is because we have 34 winners, not 1, I should give the semifinal losers one more chance to win. I may make a Da Blog Poll on this in the future.)

Fiesta Bowl: #5 Penn State v. #3 Texas
Personally, I don't think, if you looked at it logically as opposed to looking at the body of work or playing it out on the field, you can even make a case that USC should deserve the national championship ahead of Utah. USC played in too crappy a conference, and even though both games were close home games for the winners, they did lose to a team that lost to Utah the next week.

But USC beat a good team in the Rose Bowl, one good enough to earn a VERY good seed in my tournament, and though it was too little too late, Penn State's defense - which couldn't stop Glen Coffee for the first half of the Alabama game, and had even less luck against Joe McKnight - finally found their defense again in the last game. What didn't work against Mark Sanchez and McKnight, did work against Colt McCoy - and made people reconsider their snap picks for Florida in the Golden Bowl.

For three quarters it was at least plausible that the Longhorns could compete in this game, if practically unlikely. The Nittany Lions bent but didn't break on defense, and on their first drive, Mickey Shuler caught a screen pass from Daryll Clark and took it 58 yards to the house. Texas managed to get downfield enough for a chipshot field goal on their next drive, but Stephfon Green gets a 73-yard touchdown off a draw on the Lions' first play from scrimmage.

After that, the Longhorns start buckling down on defense, forcing a punt, but the offense can't even make it into Lion territory, unlike on all their first-quarter drives. In fact, Texas' defense outplays Penn State's in the second quarter, forcing three-and-outs while Texas tacks on another field goal and has another blocked. The Longhorns enter the locker room with confidence.

But Penn State starts getting first downs again, and Texas doesn't return to Lion territory until a drive that ends the third quarter. The Lions don't score, but they put the game away in the fourth quarter, starting with a field goal, and preventing Texas from even getting a first down until their last drive of the game. With five minutes left Mack Brown and McCoy are already going for it on fourth down (down only two scores and on their own 23!), giving the Lions good field position to tack on a touchdown. Another fourth-down try leads to a quick touchdown pass to Green, the player of the game for his combined 133 yards running and catching with a touchdown for each, and by the time Texas finally gets a couple of first downs it's pointless.
Final score: Penn State 31, Texas 6