Monday, July 19, 2010

SEC Preview: Scenarios for Auburn's 2010 Season

Every year, I calculate my minimum expectations for Auburn football, along with the various scenarios I can imagine playing out.

My minimum expectations this year are simply for Auburn to win as many games (8) as we did last year, get to a decent bowl, and show signs of improvement.

That being said, the fact is that the stars have lined up for this year to be Auburn's best chance to make some noise in the SEC. The schedule is more favorable than it will be in 2011, and we have a senior-laden O-line that will be completing its eligiblity before we can get to 2011.

So this is the year we need to make a splash!

Worst-case scenario:
Cam Newton struggles in the offense and can't throw the ball. QB controversy erupts. Fannin puts the rock on the ground a bunch, and Dyer isn't ready (or gets hurt, a la Caddy). Mullins has MSU cranking. South Carolina and Arkansas are as good as advertised. LSU pulls out yet another last-second improbable win over us. The AU-UGA game continues to be oddly imbalanced towards the east. I'm giving us one upset win even in this scenario, which would be likely.

Record: 5-7

Medium-case scenario:
Newton gets it going, but our defense is still suspect (and on the field too much). We split with the Carolina teams. We drop either the Kentucky game on the road or Arkansas at home. We split LSU/Georgia.

Record: 8-4
Losses to probably SC, Ark, LSU, bama

Best-case scenario:
Newton grasps the offense, can throw the ball fine, and just rocks. Fannin/Dyer/McCalebb roll (avoiding turnovers and injuries). The defense is improved. South Carolina is not as good as advertised. LSU is on downward curve. We lose somewhere in there, but are a remarkable 10-1 when we go to Tuscaloosa; I can envision no scenario as of yet where we win there.

Record: 10-2
Once again just missing the SEC title game by a hair, as we did in 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2006 (sheesh!).

Which of these scenarios will come true? Most of it depends on how Cam Newton plays, and how the defense shapes up after being nearly worn down last year.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup of Beer: Semifinals and FINAL WINNER!!

So we come at last to the "Final Four" of our World Cup of Beer: The Semifinals!

Australia (Foster's) vs.
England (Newcastle)

USA (Killian's) vs.
Netherlands (Heineken)

What a tough competition we had among these final four. The cream of the crop had indeed risen to the top, to mix metaphors slightly, and (with the possible exception of Foster's) we had some great beers going head-to-head.

Let's get right to it: Game 1!

Australia (Foster's) put up a tough fight, but in the end, England's Newcastle, with its smooth, rich flavor (flavour?), was simply too much for the Aussies to handle. Foster's, as it turns out, is also Australian for "Lost to the Geordies!" (I think that's what they're called. Neil?)


Game 2:

The Netherlands' Heineken was the other lighter-colored, weaker-flavored lager/pilsner type to make it this far. It and Foster's were clearly the class of that category this year. But it simply proved no contest against the mighty United States entry, straight outta Golden, Colorado-- Killian's Irish Red.

Killian's triumphed with its smooth, rich flavor that lacked the rough hops kick that the others suffered from. Heineken would be our third-place beer, yes-- but the second Semifinalist was Killian's!

And so, in the end, we had two medium-dark beers facing off in a competition that had, for some reason, seemed to favor the darker beers. (Even Brazil's dreaded Xingu Black Beer made the Quarters!)


England (Newcastle Brown Ale) vs United States (Killian's Irish Red)

Newcastle was good. Newcastle was very gooooooood.

But Killian's was simply better.

Simple as that.



Thanks to Ami for the photography (and for the little sashes for the bottles)!

World Cup of Beer: Quarterfinals!

Following group play, we move into the Quarterfinals brackets for the World Cup of Beer, with single-elimination play beginning.

Just as with the soccer World Cup, the winner of each group faces a second-place competitor from a different group-- thus making it impossible for two contestants from the same group to face one another prior to the Finals.

We find the competitors lined up thusly:

A1: Australia (Foster's)
C2: Belgium (Stella Artois)

B1: England (Newcastle)
D2: Germany (Beck's)

C1: USA (Killian's)
A2: Brazil (Xingu)

D1: Netherlands (Heineken)
B2: Jamaica (Red Stripe)

The Competition Results:

Match 1: Australia (Foster's) was an extremely weak group winner, facing the easiest competition of any group winner. And they were lucky again in the Quarterfinals, this time meeting one of the weaker second-place beers in Belgium's Stella Artois. Foster's prevailed, sending Australia on into the Semifinals.

Match 2: The always-exciting matchup of England and Germany gave us Newcastle Brown Ale against Beck's, the surprise qualifier from German national competition. Beck's, which had shocked many by making it even this far (securing second place in their group by ousting Italy's beloved Peroni!), gave favored Newcastle a surprisingly tough game; in some ways, Beck's was one of the major surprises of this entire competition. Ultimately, however, Newcastle pulled out the victory and England made the Semis.

Match 3: Brazil (Xingu Black Beer) was another entry that did better than expected. By far the darkest and heaviest of the beers in this tournament, they took down the weaker challengers in group play and gave it all they could muster here. Unfortunately for them, their heavier, much harsher hoppy taste could not prevail over the smoothness of the United States entry, Killian's Irish Red (itself a relatively dark beer). Killian's won with ease and moved on as the third entry in the Semis.

Match 4: Jamaica's Red Stripe was an old, sentimental favorite but never a strong competitor. As with Stella Artois, it got into the Quarters mostly by being the least bad of a set of weak lager/pilsners. Heineken of the Netherlands proved to be one of the absolute best of the lighter-colored beers, with a smooth flavor and not too much of the strong hoppiness that had derailed so many others. The Dutch moved with ease into the Semifinals while the Reggae Beers sailed home.

And so the Semifinals will see all four of the Group winners facing off, while all of the 2nd place beers go home:

Australia (Foster's) vs.
England (Newcastle)

USA (Killian's) vs.
Netherlands (Heineken)

World Cup of Beer: Group D Draw and Results!

Group D in the World Cup of Beers-- the final group of the tournament-- drew as follows:

Italy (Peroni)

Germany (Beck's)

Netherlands (Heineken)

Czech Rep. (Pilsner Urquell)

Group D Results:

Once again, sampling these beers side-by-side in blind taste test, with the beers slightly less than "ice cold" and in small plasic cups instead of cold glass bottles had an impact on the outcome.

There is no doubt that, when I am sitting in an Italian restaurant eating good Italian food, there's nothing in the world better than an ice-cold bottle of Peroni. I love it. And yet, in this competition, with the circumstances so different surrounding the drinking of it.... we get totally different results. As with the way the Italian national side usually struggles in the early games of any World Cup, Peroni struggled to a draw with Beck's in the opening game, and then lost handily to Heineken (a result I found shocking once the beers were revealed to me). Only in the final game, against hapless Pilsner Urquell, did the Italian beer manage a clear victory-- just enough to pull them completely level with the German beer, Beck's. More on that in a moment.

Once again, one beer waltzed easily through all three matches of the Group competition, making it four-for-four on a beer receiving the full 9 of 9 possible points. This time it was Heineken, which makes the overall favorites for reaching the semifinals quite obvious: four groups with one beer in each sweeping to nine points. And yet, I have a feeling that something unexpected could still happen. We shall see, later today in fact.

Back to the group results: Germany's Beck's managed a draw with Peroni and then dispatched the Czech beer with ease, and looked to be cruising toward advancement. But Heineken took the Germans down in the final game, giving us a dead-heat between Peroni and Beck's. We would have to look at "goal differential."

In the case of a World Cup of Beers, "goal differential" consisted of a drink-off between the two drawn teams in second. Still completely blind as to the identities of the beers (and with the Peroni tasting oddly flat, I have to admit-- I did not recognize its usually peppery taste at all, as I normally would have), I sampled both again and declared one the extremely marginal winner-- which turned out to be Beck's.

And so, the Germans managed to forge their way into the next round, while the Italians have been shown the door. Not what I expected by any means.

Meanwhile, the Czechs were bounced and their beer joined China's TsingTao as the only two to be defeated in every match and go home with zero points.

So here are the final Group results, before we move on to the Quarterfinals today!

GROUP D RESULTS: (Top two advance to the Quarterfinals)

Netherlands (Heineken) 3 3 3 __ 9

Germany (Beck's) 0 3 1 __ 4

Italy (Peroni) 1 0 1 __ 2

Czech Rep. (Pilsner Urquell) 1 0 0 __ 1

Quarterfinal results coming later today!

Friday, July 09, 2010

World Cup of Beer: Group C Draw and Results!

Group C in the World Cup of Beers drew as follows:

USA (Killian's Irish Red)

Belgium (Stella Artois)

Ireland (Harp)

Spain (Estrella Galicia)

Group C Results:

Bear in mind-- this competition is a *blind* taste test. The idea is to remove any possible way of my knowing in advance what I'm drinking, and what's competing with what in each group. To that end, Ami prepares the cups of beer for me to sample in such a way that I have no idea which four of the sixteen beers in the competition I'm tasting in each round. All I have to go by, aside from taste, is the color and the smell.

Group C was a real mystery to me at first. I could tell from the smell and taste that it included two of what I'm coming to think of as the "generic thin, light-yellow pilsner/lager beers." They all taste pretty similar, more or less-- a fact that I'm suspecting is contributing to the darker ales and beers doing better in this year's competition; they tend to stand out strongly against the bland competition.

Thus Killian's, with its darker, richer flavor (but lack of bitterness) easily swept this group. Killian's was one of three finalists for my "Official Beer of World Cup 2006," an admittedly far less comprehensive competition. It destroyed the competition in Group C, and now looks to be a strong contender for the championship.

Harp and Estrella Galicia simply faced the wrong competition in this (blindly drawn) Group. They came across as watered-down, thin American-ish beers. They even drew with one another in direct competition, neither proving notably superior to the other.

The second-place finisher was a true puzzle when I smelled and tasted it. Immediately I was sure I'd tasted it before, but for several minutes I couldn't place it. Then I decided, "It must be Peroni!" But yet it didn't taste quite as good as Peroni. But it had that distinctive smell and flavor....

And of course it ended up being Belgium's Stella Artois, which I am sure I've had in the past, but not recently enough to recall that particular flavor and smell. Stella Artois lost to Killian's but defeated Estrella Galicia head-to-head and then managed a draw with Harp.

This was a strong group and the two beers that failed to advance might well have done better against other competition. Could this have been the Beer Group of Death?? Of course, Group D looks to have some powerful competition in store, too-- we now know it will include Heineken and Peroni, anther finalist for the 2006 title!

GROUP C RESULTS: (Top two advance to the Quarterfinals)

USA (Killian's) 3 3 3 __ 9

Belgium (Stella Artois) 0 3 1 __ 4

Ireland (Harp) 1 0 1 __ 2

Spain (Estrella Galicia) 1 0 0 __ 1

Group C coming soon!