College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Parker Anderson
Before we get to the Best Bets for the week, I'll use this space (and perhaps a lengthier column in the future) to salute the recently laid off employees at the soon-to-be-sold-and-renamed-and-lobotomized Comcast Sports Net Houston.

As you all are probably aware, painfully so if you're a non-Comcast subscriber, the fledgling Astros- and Rockets-owned network was never able to get distribution traction in Houston but, after a lengthy bankruptcy proceeding, is on the verge of being sold to AT&T/DirecTV fans rebranded as Root Sports Houston.

If you had a chance to watch the CSN product, then you know what I'm about to say -- the product itself was amazingly well done, as the slew of Emmy nominations for the network indicate. The crew there, on air and behind the scenes, are some of the best, most creative people I've worked with since getting into radio. I was fortunate to be a panelist several times on Sports Talk Live, and the place always had an air of fun and teamwork.

The issues that led to the network's demise were certainly not content-based; they were the product of a muddled distribution strategy and ownership partners with drastically divergent agendas. Again, the "why" of all this is another column for another time.

I just wanted to use a few paragraphs here to wish the best to all of those folks leaving CSN (and, many of them, likely leaving Houston), and thank them for making me better at what I do.

I think this seven minutes of video, a farewell between Bill Doleman and Calvin Murphy, perfectly sums up the culture of a network and a crew that deserved so much better than what they got...

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Kelvin Sampson Takes Over the Coogs (Just Don't Expect a Tourney Visit This Year)

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The Cougars try to rebuild once again.
The Houston Cougars come into this basketball season with a new coach. They have new players, and supposedly a new culture. But some things never change, and just as with last season, the Cougars are going to lose a lot of games.

Kelvin Sampson's the new guy in charge. The former assistant coach for the Houston Rockets, Sampson's had numerous NCAA stops, getting Oklahoma and Indiana into the NCAA tourney on multiple occasions. But he lost two of the team's best players shortly after he was hired when TaShawn Thomas transferred to Oklahoma and Danuel House transferred to Texas A&M. Another key player, L.J. Rose, has a broken foot and is out for the foreseeable future. And if the season started today, walk-on Wes VanBeck would be seeing major minutes at point guard.

"We're building this program," Sampson said Tuesday. "This year is what it is. We're establishing culture and getting these guys to play the way we want to play. When people see our style of play, they're going to be excited to watch us. This is going to be a fun team to watch. I'm excited about it."

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Texans-Titans Preview: 2014 Season on the Brink

Categories: Football, Sports

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Photo by Groovehouse
Three weeks ago the Texans sat at two games over .500, ready to attack a difficult upcoming three-game stretch that would define the first half of the season.

All three games would be against playoff contenders and/or played in a tough environment in prime time. Despite showing some fight in each of the three games, the Texans were unable to get a win in any of the three -- a 20-17 overtime loss in Dallas, a 33-28 Thursday night home loss to the Colts and a 30-23 mistake-fest Monday night in Pittsburgh.

So after a three-game losing streak, the Texans sit at a game under .500 now with a game this weekend against a team that will give them an opportunity to "get well," the Tennessee Titans.

If this entire arc of a scenario looks familiar, it should.

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Judge in Adrian Peterson Case Will Not Be Recused

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Mike Morbeck
If you're somebody who wants the child abuse trial of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to begin as quickly as possible (a subset of people that happens to include one Mr. Adrian Peterson), then you received the news you wanted to hear on Wednesday in the decision whether or not to recuse the judge initially assigned to the case.

In a Conroe courtroom yesterday, it was announced that the district attorney's request to have Montgomery County state District Judge Kelly Case removed from overseeing the Peterson trial would be denied.

Any trial (or in this case, the process leading up to the trial) is a series of wins and losses, so who won and who lost this round? More important (to most casual followers of the case), what does this mean to Adrian Peterson?

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Brian Cushing to Miss Titans Game, Possibly More With Sore Knee

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Photo by Groovehouse
From the rubble of the 2013 season, the rebuild of the Houston Texans was going to begin with the construction of a fearsome front seven on defense.

You already had a built-in starting point with the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt. From there, you unleash a nuclear pass rush by using the first overall pick in the draft on "generational talent" Jadeveon Clowney to play outside linebacker. And then, with the return of inside linebacker Brian Cushing from his knee injury, the middle of the field would have its own (potential) Pro Bowler to handle things.

It was all gonna be so awesome. Or so the story goes. But these knees. These goddamn knees.

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Complementary Football: How the Texans Bury Themselves Each Week

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Photo by Marco Torres
Bill O'Brien loves him some "complementary football," Obie-speak for the optimal combination of offensive, defensive and special teams proficiency to bring the hometown team a victory each Sunday (and God willing, the occasional Thursday or Monday, the last two games notwithstanding).

For these 2014 Houston Texans, complementary football is almost a necessity. Against 90 percent of the league, this team has to have each facet of the machine running smoothly in order to emerge with a victory. For good teams with great quarterbacks, complementary football is a luxury, because the superhero under center can mask a lot of flaws.

The Houston Texans right now are neither a good football team nor employing a great quarterback (or even an average quarterback, for that matter), therefore.....COMPLEMENTARY FOOTBALL, YO!!


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Steelers 30, Texans 23: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

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At least Bill O'Brien is finally giving you the fire you've been waiting for, Texans fan.
Ask NFL players what they enjoy about playing prime-time, nationally televised football games, and one of the first things they'll all inevitably bring up is the fact that they know all their peers are watching.

There's added motivation in showing off your wares to the other 30 idle teams around the league, and I would imagine that as an NFL player, when you have two prime-time games in a ten-day span, you would like to look back and say to yourself, "Man, we showed the nation what we're all about."

If you're a Houston Texan, you hope you can look back at the final gun last night in Pittsburgh and say, "That was Houston Texans football."

Well, for better or worse, after an exasperating opening act last Thursday night against the Colts and on the heels of a 30-23 loss to the Steelers last night in Pittsburgh in which the Texans gave up 24 points in the final three minutes of the first half (TWENTY FOUR!), we can all look back and say it together:

That was Houston Texans football. Unfortunately.


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Cougars Defeat Temple, But Does It Count if No One's There to See It?

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Does a win really count if there's no one there to see it?
The Houston Cougars (4-3) defeated the Temple Owls (4-2) 31-10 on Friday night. The game wasn't as close as the final score indicates, since the Cougar defense kept Temple bottled up for most of the night. The game was a bit of a yawner as the Cougars no longer offer up the high-flying Air Raid offense, instead relying on the running game, short passes, improvisations of new QB Greg Ward Jr. and a stifling defense that forces turnovers at ease.

The game was also a yawner because the alleged "crowd" was pretty quiet. "Alleged" because the announced attendance was 21,471 for a stadium that holds 40,000. And looking out over TDECU Stadium Friday night, it appeared that 21,471 number was a bit inflated; there's just no way the stadium was half-full.

"I want to recognize our fans and our students," head coach Tony Levine said after the game. "I thought it was a terrific turnout tonight; the students have really made a difference, especially on that side of the field. It was loud there tonight and I really appreciate, eight o'clock kickoff, the game isn't going to end till eleven-thirty, twelve o'clock at night on a Friday evening. Our alumni, our fan base, our students, getting off work and coming out and supporting us, I thought it was tremendous."

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College Football, Week 8: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

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A few weeks ago, we had maybe the most thrilling college football weekend of the last ten years (possibly since the 2005 weekend that included, among other fantastic finishes, the "Bush Push" game between USC and Notre Dame). It was twelve hours of dramatic endings and pinball scoring stats, everything that's great about this time of the year and the age we live in (multiple games on television, computer streaming, social media).

The great thing about college football, though, is that you don't need great finishes for the sport to be compelling. This past Saturday we had plenty of buildup to marquee match ups and potential career altering twists for some head coaches. However, in the end, there were a lot more blowouts and popcorn farts on Saturday than there were Instant Classics.

And yet, even from the ashes of numerous boring thrashings, we get storylines. Sure, we love the hits, the physicality, the game day pomp and circumstance of a football Saturday (or Sunday), but no other sport has the episodic advantage and storyline arc that college and pro football have.

The games are great, but now they're over, and now we essentially have six days to pore over what it all means. THAT'S AWESOME. So let's commence poring with the winners and losers from this weekend's college football action...

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Lance Berkman Goes (Back) to College

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Guess who's gone back to college?
It's a beautiful October Tuesday afternoon in Houston, Texas. There's a high, blue sky. The humidity is nonexistent and the temperature's in the mid-70s. It's a great day for outdoor activities, and the Rice Owls baseball team is going to take full advantage of it for a day of afternoon practice.

Players slowly emerge from the clubhouse into the dugout and then onto the field. They come out first singly, then in pairs, then groups of players come out. Some put on gloves and grabs balls and start playing catch, while others go up to the batting cage and start taking swings. An older gentleman emerges from the clubhouse into the dugout, looking to be in his late thirties. He's wearing gray shorts, a white Rice T-shirt. There's a blue Rice cap on his head, sunglasses on top of the cap, and there's a touch of gray in his beard, but there's no mistaking Lance Berkman.

Rice coach Wayne Graham has long said that star pupil Lance Berkman was welcome to return as a coach whenever he desired. And Berkman, finishing up his first year of retirement from Major League Baseball, has taken Graham up on his offer, kind of. Berkman's not really a coach. His actual title is student assistant because Berkman's not officially on the coaching staff. Berkman's a student at Rice, 40 hours short of his degree, and he's decided to finish what he started back in the 1990s before he was drafted by the Houston Astros, so now he's working on his kinesiology degree while spending his free time with the baseball team.

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