Archives for August 2009

What would it have taken to land Roy Halladay? Part 1: American League

How much am I worth to you?

How much am I worth to you?

By Jake McCormick

The chances of someone landing Toronto Blue Jay Roy Halladay before last month’s MLB trading deadline were 1 on 146,107,961. That’s one point higher in odds than getting all five numbers right in the Wisconsin Powerball lottery. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating J.P. Riccardi’s demand of a “Wow!” package for a two-year lease on one of the game’s premier pitchers, but most front offices had to feel like they had a better chance at winning the lottery than getting Halladay for anything less than their top pitching and hitting prospects, and Megan Fox.

With only a month left in the 2009 regular season, the true contenders are starting to put everything together for the final push while the stragglers are left to fend for themselves. Now we’re left with a lot of “what-ifs” from teams like the Brewers, Cubs, Twins, and Mariners. In the spirit of hypothetical situations and video game-created All Star teams, I’m writing a two part series (one for the American League, one for the National League) on what would’ve happened if Halladay had been traded to 12 teams a month ago and the packages each team needed to put together to bring the ace onto American soil.

Editor’s note: We’re also going to assume that the teams have pre-Trading Deadline lineups and prospects.

Toronto Blue Jay demands:
Obviously pitching is a big need for an organization that has a few promising prospects mixed with oft-injured hurlers. The Blue Jays also could use some outfield help after they showed the underachieving Alex Rios the door and Vernon Wells continues to compliment Alfonso Soriano as the AL’s biggest outfield bust and untradeable long-term contract signed in the past three years. Toronto has some budding talent in 2B Aaron Hill, DH Adam Lind, and top prospect Travis Snyder, but the left side of their infield isn’t exactly a long-term fixture, and like almost every other team, they could use a catcher of the future.

Boston Red Sox
RHP Michael Bowden (4-6, 3.19 ERA, 84 K in AAA)
P Clay Buchholz (2-3, 5.02 ERA, 27 K in MLB)
RF/CF Josh Reddick (.252 BA, 13 HR, 33 RBI in AA and AAA)
SS Yamaico Navarro (.233 BA, 5 HR, 26 RBI in A and AA)

Clay BuchholzBuchholz has shown signs of brilliance over his short career, including besting Halladay in a duel last Wednesday. He would be the centerpiece of the deal because he’s on the cusp of putting it all together and hasn’t even reached the age where he can legally rent a car. Think: Roy Halladay

The Sox would be forced to part with their top pitching prospect in Bowden, who isn’t a strikeout pitcher and would at best become a No. 2 starter. But he lacks a history of injuries and works both sides of the plate with a low-90s fastball and good curve. Think: Joe Blanton

Double-A outfielder Josh Reddick has good speed, a strong arm, and is a work in progress with his plate discipline, but his bat speed helps offset that deficiency. The guy can definitely hit. Think: Matt Kemp

Navarro can play shortstop, third base, and second base effectively, as he has a strong arm and good range. He’s a bulky guy with a decent bat. Think: Juan Uribe

Verdict:
If I’m the Blue Jays, I pull the trigger. None of these players costs you anything, and you get two MLB-ready pitchers and an outfielder that’s a year away from the Bigs.

Minnesota Twins
CF Carlos Gomez (.242 BA, 3 HR, 27 RBI in MLB)
RHP Shooter Hunt (0-5, 10.19 ERA, 26 K in Rookie and A)
LHP Glen Perkins (6-7, 5.89, 45 K in MLB)
OF Aaron Hicks (.243 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI in A)

This would be GM Bill Smith’s chance to totally redeem himself for the terribly unbalanced Johan Santana trade. Gomez continues to be a work in progress and the Twins have Denard Span turning into the player they thought Gomez would be at this point. Think: Dexter Fowler

The Twins have always filled their rotation with command pitchers that throw with a lot of movement in their repertoire. Hunt does not fit the bill. He walks a lot of guys, but throws the ball like it’s coming out of a potato cannon. Think: Ubaldo Jimenez

Perkins has been unable to fight the injury bug, but has had points where it looks like he’s figured out his stuff. He would be a nice MLB-ready compliment as a control pitcher to the fireballer Hunt. Think: Wandy Rodriguez

Aaron HicksHicks is the top outfield prospect in the Twins’ organization. The guy can run, hit, patiently wait for a good pitch, and can actually pitch himself. He was called the best high school prospect in the Los Angeles area since Darryl Strawberry. As long as he doesn’t follow the path through white snow as Strawberry did, he’s going to be an impact player. Think: Justin Upton

Verdict:
I would absolutely pull the trigger if I’m Toronto. You may not be getting ace-quality pitchers, but all four of those guys bring completely different skill sets to the table. That’s enough for me.

Texas Rangers
RHP Neftali Feliz (1 SV, 0.55 ERA, 21 K in MLB)
OF Julio Borbon (.415 BA, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 9 SB in MLB)
C Taylor Teagarden (.194 BA, 6 HR, 22 RBI in MLB)

Neftali FelizFeliz is an absolute stud ace in the making and the Rangers have a deep enough farm system that they could handle losing their top pitching prospect that already has made a splash in the majors, with a 0.55 ERA in 16 IP. Think: Felix Hernandez

Borbon has also made it to the big league club this year, and is batting at a .478 clip. He is fast and can obviously hit, but he needs to work on his defensive skills. That’s no reason to turn him away in a trade though. Think: Kenny Lofton

Teagarden is also currently with Texas, and is a very good defensive catcher that can hit for power but whiffs a lot. The Rangers’ package would give the Blue Jays three players just touching the start of their big league careers. Think: Bengie Molina

Verdict:
This is the easiest one to take if I were Riccardi. All three guys have loads of potential and fill long-term needs. And did I mention they’re MLB-ready, and cheap?

Seattle Mariners
LF Michael Saunders (.253 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBI in 74 AB in MLB)
RHP Phillippe Aumont (2-6, 3.88 ERA, 59 K in A+ and AA)
RHP Michael Pineda (4-1, 2.70 ERA, 40 K in A+ and Rookie League)

Saunders is currently on the Mariners roster, and is performing like a rookie should. He’s can run well, hit, hit for power, fielder, and throw very well. The only downside is his strikeout potential, but that can be corrected given his natural-born talent. Think: Left-handed Ryan Braun

Mariners Diamondbacks Spring BaseballAumont is the Mariners top pitching prospect, with a fastball that gets up to 95 MPH and a high arching curve. He is developing a changeup and is still young, but if he can put those three pitches together, the upside might be too much to pass up if you’re Toronto. He’s also faced MLB hitters in the World Baseball Classic, and made Kevin Youkilis, David Wright, and Curtis Granderson look foolish. And he’s 20 years old. Think: Matt Cain

Pineda is a big, skinny guy (6’5”, 185 lbs) and has consistently performed well in the minor leagues. He throws a good fastball, a very good slider, and average changeup. But his ability to control all of those pitches are what makes him a dangerous opponent. Think: Jered Weaver

Chicago White Sox
LHP Aaron Poreda
(1-0, 2.45 ERA, 12 K in MLB)
3B Gordon Beckham (.284 BA, 8 HR, 47 RBI in MLB)
RHP Levi Maxwell (4-14, 4.86 ERA, 38 K in A+)

Dodgers Sox Spring BaseballBeckham has proven he can flat out rake to all fields at the big league level, and would undoubtedly be the focal point of this trade. He is till adjusting defensively as a third baseman, but considering what he’s done at the plate that’s no reason to sit him down. Think: Scott Rolen

At 6’6” 240 lbs Poreda is a real man, and he’s left handed. He throws a mid to upper-90s fastball with lots of movement, and is continuing to develop his slider and changeup. Poreda has already proven his worth as he was part of the trade that brought Jake Peavy to the South Side. Think: Lefty Josh Johnson

Maxwell is a work in progress and has excellent control over his fastball, which runs in the low to mid 90s. His off-speed pitches need work, but if he can command all his pitches even if they aren’t lights out, he’ll easily find a spot in a big league rotation. Think: Derek Lowe

Verdict:
If Beckham and Poreda are in the deal, that’s enough to seal it for Riccardi. Both are so highly regarded and MLB-ready that it would only make sense to take the trade if it was offered.

Those are just five offers in the American League that Riccardi couldn’t refuse. If I’m any of these teams, I would be just as hesitant as they were to part with potential future stars. But given what happened with CC Sabathia last year and the Brewers, would it really hurt any of these teams that much? Stay tuned for the National League version of hypothetical Halladay trades.

Exclusive with the Nation’s Best WR Arrelious “Rejus” Benn

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The University of Illinois Wide Receiving Corps will be among the best in College Football this year. In this four part series, Paul M. Banks interviews and profiles each of the top four Illini pass catching threats.

Part 4: Arrelious “Rejus” Benn

Talk about saving the best for last- in the final installment of my interview/profiles of the stellar University of Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiving corp, I profile Arrelious ‘Rejus’ Benn. He’s by far the best Illini receiver in a generation. The 6’2”, 214 lb darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate has his share of accolades and hardware including:

•    Maxwell Award Candidate
•    Biletnikoff Award Candidate
•    Preseason Third-Team All-American (Athlon)
•    Preseason First-Team All-Big Ten (Athlon)
•    Named Big Ten’s Fastest Receiver (The Sporting News)
•    Rated the No. 20 player in the nation (The Sporting News)
•    Rated the No. 1 wide receiver in the Big Ten (The Sporting News)
•    2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year
•    2007 Freshman All-American

Almost everyone knows him as Arrelious, but people really close to him call him Rejus. “It’s a nickname that started when I was younger, my father’s nickname was Redus and his real name was Arrelious, so I’m named after him,” Benn said. No word yet if anyone in Rejus’s family is named Kathie Lee (hey hey…thanks I just got in from Champaign-Urbana and boy are my arms tired).

Rejus is from Washington D.C. and prepped at Dunbar, in one of the District’s roughest neighborhoods. He’s come a long way to get here and spoke about the difference between a small town in Central Illinois and the nation’s capital. “It’s been slow, but I like it. D. C. is fast, but it’s always good to get away from the city, and find yourself and just focus on what you need to do…Being in Champaign has really matured me into the person I am and I’ve seen a lot of things from both sides, being in the city and in a place like Champaign.” Despite the distance, his family often makes the trek to see him play. “I always have my mom and younger brothers coming to some games.”dsc026871

Illinois’ schedule will extend much longer this season as bye weeks will be more frequent, and much later, until the regular season concludes with a December 5th home date against Fresno St. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to go out there in the cold and sweat. Get covered with scarves around my arm, I like just going out there and playing the game, and I hope it snows,” Benn said about the Illini’s adjusted schedule, which is an attempt to be much crisper and ready for a bowl game- should they qualify.

Benn has mid 4.4 speed, but still includes speed in his list of what he feels he needs to improve upon; which is pretty much everything: route-running, pass-catching, the whole package as he puts it. So what about his greatest strength? “For me to be able to do all the things I can do, at my size, I’m not your typical receiver,” Rejus answered. And his game has drawn comparisons to one of the best in the business right now. “For me to labeled as the next Anquan Boldin would be a tremendous complement.”dsc02693

And you’ll see Benn this fall on special teams, not just in the offense. “That’s my thing, I like to return kicks. Jarrod Fayson, he’s gonna take care of the punt returns, and I’ll get back there some in case he needs a blow. Mostly though, I’ll be doing kickoffs,”  Rejus said.

Benn currently projects as a top ten, maybe even top 5 NFL Draft pick in 2010, and that stock could rise when you consider how (unlike in all of 2007, and portions of 2008) he no longer has to deal with any nagging injuries. “I think this is the healthiest I’ve been since I’ve been here,” Benn said at Illini Media Day. Obviously, this prompts the question of whether he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft next off-season. When asked about all the people who assume he’s done with college after this year, Benn said

“The media just does their job. All my focus is on September against Missouri. That decision is for later down the road. I think I would be dishonest if I was thinking about something like that which I’m not, because we have unfinished business here.”

illinirosebowl

Last year’s 5-7 season, was a devastating disappointment for Benn and the Illini. Following 2007’s 9-4 BCS “Champaign Campaign,” many experts thought Illinois would take the next step forward- or at least remain where they were. “It’s been on our minds since the end of the Northwestern game, it’s been especially on my mind because I was kind of knocked out of that game we missed out on a lot…I wouldn’t say we’re hungry, I’d say we’re starving in terms of going back to a bowl, we had a taste with the Rose Bowl and now we want to know what it feels like to win,” Benn articulated on the program’s big picture before describing the attitude of this year’s squad in training camp “We got a lot of leadership this year, a lot of guys who have stepped up and taken on the role of vocal leaders on the team.”

And the fans are certainly ready for Benn and his teammates to rise. “For Illinois to have not been so good, football wise for a few years, they have a great fan base. Whether we win or lose, our fans are right beside us and I love that.”

“Sinking” White Sox Exchange

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By Soxman and Paul M. Banks

“Iceberg dead ahead,” is the titanic analogy most White Sox fans are using to describe the Sox play-off chances as they’ve commenced their most difficult road trip of the year.  No sooner are the Minnesota Twins “ruled dead” that they are only a game behind the White Sox in the standings.  Can the Sox still win this division or will they end the season in third place?  Paul M. Banks and Soxman break it down in this week’s White Sox Exchange.

(PMB) Things are looking bleak, they now even have a losing record against the AL East on the season- that stat was my last beacon of hope heading into this monster road trip.


(SM) For Sox fans it is pretty hard to remain optimistic when the most positive thing you can say about your team is “underperforming.”  I’m often asked via e-mail or Facebook, why is there not more excitement about a team in the thick of the playoff hunt.  My answer?  THE TEAM IS ONE GAME ABOVE .500!  In EVERY other division in MLB the White Sox are a 4th place team.  Look it up.

sinking_ship

(PMB) Repeatedly seeing a half-empty U.S. Cellular Field for multiple games each homestand says it all. So did Ozzie. When asked earlier in the year, after they hosted the first place Los Angeles Dodgers to crowds of 40% or less capacity why the Cubs were drawing much better at the time. “Because our fans are smart- they know this team is horses#$t.” The Sox public and media relations teams may be horrible at their jobs, but having a very mediocre product to try and sell doesn’t help. This isn’t a pennant race, it’s a turtle race.

Oh and pardon the picture to the right, that has the wrong colored Sox name and logo on it.


(SM) Let’s talk about what’s keeping the Sox from grabbing the division lead for a minute.  The Sox are the WORST fielding team in the American League (.980 Fielding percentage), and the third worst team in major league baseball; only better than the Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are having contraction worthy seasons.  They have given up 65 unearned runs this season.  Hitting and pitching tend to be streaky, but fielding is a consistent indicator- not a positive sign for our play-off hopes.  If our luck does not turn around quickly, we could very well finish the season in third place.  Your thoughts?

(PMB) Hold on, this question reminded me of the 4th inning last night, and I’m about to lose my lunch. Ok, I’m back now, and need to take something for my upset stomach. It’s true this team beats itself more than any other team beats them, but your question at that .980 statistic reminds me of something. Everyone always talks about “hitting a baseball being the hardest thing to do in sports” or “baseball as a game of failure” because if you fail 2/3 of the time (i.e. have a career batting average of .333) you’re a legend, but what about looking at it from the other perspective (no one does that).

Look at the Sox fielding, they succeed 98 times out of 100, and they’re ABYSMAL. We should think about that once in awhile. Or think about girls, or music, or food or whatever to take your mind off a TERRIBLE defensive outfield when you have both Podsednik and Quentin in it. I really thought they were going to improve once they sent Josh Fields back down to AAA. But the problem was much bigger than him.

turtlerace

(SM) Pitching? The Sox have the 7th best team ERA in the majors (4.13), and over the past month, are second only to the Texas Rangers in the AL (4.07).  Jake Peavy tossed five scoreless innings in his August 24th start with Triple-A Charlotte. He had three strikeouts with two walks, and 52 of his 80 pitches landed for strikes.  Will his return be too little to late?  Why didn’t the Sox make a waiver claim on Billy Wagner?  With Scott Linebrink struggling (8.53 ERA in his last 6 games), he could have helped.

(PMB) Aren’t the Sox lower on the waiver priority wire now after acquiring Alex Rios? I do love how Kenny is taking steps now to address the needs that he failed to address in the off-season. You would think adding a new Ace to your rotation would be make a difference of 4-5 games, which is what we need right now, but I think Peavy’s main impact will be in 2010. I still love the move, I just don’t think it’ll be enough.

(SM) Hitting?  Over the last 30 days, the White Sox are last in the AL with a .253 team batting average.  Luckily, the Tigers are second worst at .258.  The “dead” Twins are 4th at .288.  Jermaine Dye’s bat has vanished since the All-Star break.  He hasn’t homered in his last 16 games and is only hitting .190.  Did the Rios trade impact him?  Other offensive pennant push—overs?  Paul Konerko- .182 in his last 55 at bats, and your man-crush, Gordon Beckham, .233 over the last 19 games.  What do you think is going on here?

(PMB) I don’t know how to explain it, other than maybe they’re “hitting” the proverbial wall- like so many NBA rookies do down the stretch of their first seasons. That could definitely apply to man-crush. As for Dye, maybe his age is catching up to him. I was on the record saying Carlos Quentin’s 2008 was a fluke, so I won’t touch CQ. And yes, I get it, the Twinkies are not dead yet- even though I said they were last week.

Alright, let’s blare PODs, “BOOM” as we go to our “closer” feature, Maybe or Mirage, where we hit 5 quick points on the White Sox and offer our opinion whether it is a sign of things to come or something likely to fade quickly?  Remember, no answer can be longer than 20 words!  Let’s play ball…

As Ozzie said, the 2009 White Sox are good enough to go to the World Series.

(SM)  Mirage.  They can’t even control an average AL Central.alexeicheshirt

(PMB) Ha ha ha ha!…Oh yeah. Mirage. All they have to improve is their defense, bullpen, starting pitching, and offense.


2009 will be the last we see of Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome in Chicago.

(SM)  Mirage, we’ll see a lot of Thome when he plays for the Indians in 2010.

(PMB) Mirage and Maybe, Dye can DH next year, Thome can get his option declined. Love your irony btw.


Gordon Beckham will be the AL Rookie of the Year

(SM)  Maybe, BUT Andrew Bailey, 6-3, 18 SV, 1.99 ERA with 75 Ks in 68 IP might disagree.

(PMB) Maybe. You hear him on The Score today with surprise guests, The Outfield? Creators of his theme music…”I don’t want to lose your love, toniiiiight”

Jake Peavy will pitch for the Sox in 2009.

(SM)  Maybe, he already is pitching for the Sox…at AAA.

(PMB) Definitely, he took a line drive off the elbow today, but it’s Minor. He looked Major in that start.



Alexei Ramirez is the reason the Sox defense stinks.

(SM)  Maybe, as he should be much better than he is.

(PMB) Maybe. He does a way better job at 2B, but there’s also blame to go around.

Ranking the Big Ten Football Venues

beaverstadium

By Paul M. Banks

Our friends over at Midwest Sports Fans.com have ranked the atmosphere at all 11 Big Ten football Stadiums. And Chicago’s two teams, Illinois and Northwestern, did not place well. Actually, their showing was pitiful, 8th and 11th respectively. If you can use the term “respect” in regards to what the writer thought of the Wildcats and Illini home fields- at least in these rankings. Of course, these rankings were compiled by an Indiana University graduate/fan, so take it with a grain of salt. Then again who would know more about crappy, unexciting football than an IU alum?

Either way, be sure to check out the full list by clicking here. There’s lots of cool pictures, YouTube videos, and even the clip of Brutus the Buckeye getting into a fight with a Michigan fan on the sidelines of Ryan Field. Good times indeed.

With a Name like Pat Angerer, you must be a Linebacker

angerer2

By Paul M. Banks

Urlacher. Butkus. Stonebreaker- all are fantastic names of star collegiate linebackers who are or have been regarded as legend…wait for it…dairy in the Midwest. The tradition continues in Iowa City with senior Pat Angerer, who was named to this year’s Butkus Award and Lott Trophy watch lists.

When asked about his name fitting his job: “I never really thought anything of it until I started playing at Iowa, and people started bringing it up. I don’t mind it. It’s alright,” Angerer replied at Big Ten Media Day. Angerer was named pre-season first team all-Big Ten by Phil Steele’s College Football and Lindy’s College Football, based on the big success he had as a junior last year.
“Last year I was competing with another guy and going through camp he was still ahead of me, but I knew that if I put my nose down and persevered, worked hard, I would experience success and that’s what happened and I’m thankful for it,” Angerer stated sounding a bit like Hulk Hogan.

Last year at this time, he found himself in a completely different football world, as issues and doubt had crept in. There were times in 2007 when Angerer couldn’t even stand to watch the game of football. So his journey to where he is today (very close to the summit and attracting attention of NFL scouts) is all the more special.  angerer

“I think it was the most satisfying,” Pat said when I asked him if last year was the most enjoyable football season of his life. All the stats and facts bear this out. Angerer was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week vs. Wisconsin, and perhaps the team’s most valuable defensive player in their Outback Bowl win over South Carolina, the only postseason victory for a Big Ten team. Last year, he ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for 28th nationally in interceptions at .38 per game.

He also ranked sixth in the Big Ten with 8.2 tackles per game, and led the Hawkeyes in tackles with 107. All this earned him a second team all-Big Ten honor from the league coaches. Pat defines his best asset as such “my athleticism gets me out of trouble a lot of times, sometimes I might take that wrong read step, or get in bad position and my athleticism helps me get out of it.”

Angerer should also get another boost from having especially grueling practices this year, as everyday he scrimmages agasint one of the best position groups in the NCAA: the Iowa Offensive line. “We know going into practice that we’re going to have to bring it, otherwise they’re going to kick our butt, but we know all their checks at the line of scrimmage, so we kind of cheat in that way. We kind of know what they’re going to do,” he said. So as his practice prep makes him an even more special player come gameday this fall, what kind of heights could he reach?
“I looked up to Chad Greenway a lot. I’m not half the player he is, but I hope to eventually be there someday.”

Ron Zook Attacked by Florida Gator Thugs

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By Paul M. Banks

You would think that when a coach is leading a program that is the pre-eminent power in all of college football, said coach would possess a sense of humility and sportsmanship. You would think that when you’re coaching the reigning national champions, with a quarterback deemed sacrosanct and above criticism by the national media, you would be content, satisfied and have better things to do that fire insults at the leader of a mediocre college football program.

However, Florida Gators head man Urban Meyer is obviously none of these things- but he did become a strong candidate for my 2010 douchebracket when he went out of his way to viciously slander Illinois head football coach Ron Zook, his predecessor at the University of Florida.


I’ll let ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg break it down

“Meyer’s response came after The Orlando Sentinel’s Jeremy Fowler asked him how he treats fighting between players after an alleged incident at Miami that left Hurricanes defensive end Adewale Ojomo with a broken jaw.urban_meyer_poster2

The question had no mention of Zook or the previous regime, but Meyer, who never mentioned Zook by name, launched into this attack.

“When we first got here five years ago they had freshmen in a separate locker room and it was a bunch of tin lockers over there and they weren’t allowed to walk [into the regular locker room],” Meyer told reporters Friday. “Think about this for a minute: this is a big-time college football program and we had some fights because they treat their freshman like they were non-people.

“‘Don’t walk through here, we’ll kick your tail, we’ll shave your eyebrows.’ It took us awhile to break that great culture we had here. That was tremendous. You don’t win many games, but you beat up freshman and shave eyebrows. Absolutely unbelievable.”

Oh, wait, there’s more.

“It’s called a team, not some silly nonsense. That was five years ago, let’s go beat up freshmen. Let’s get our brains kicked in against our rival, but let’s go beat up a freshman.”

The first rule of show-business (and college football is obviously show-business, why else would the NCAA sellout control of their postseason to corporate sponsors) you never use your bit to attack the guy who does bigger numbers than you. That’s why MSNBC’s Keith Olberman devotes so much of his show to trashing Bill O’Reilly, his ratings are lower than O’Reilly’s. (But to be fair the combined IQ of O’Reilly’s collective audience is likely less than a random sampling of 100 Olberman viewers) It’s why I never attacked that Miller Park Drunk.com douchenozzle, but he slammed me. His web traffic is light years behind mine. So why did Meyer go out of his way to slam Zook, who is five years removed from the The Swamp? “Have you no decency, sir?”

Seriously, the Zooker may have his faults, but at least he knows how to take the high road, when the massive tool that is Urban Meyer probably couldn’t even find it with a Garmin.

Again quoting Rittenberg’s piece, this is what Zook had to say

“I was surprised to see that, once again, five years later, we’re blamed for something else at Florida. But by now I guess I shouldn’t be. This one was most disappointing because it implies we didn’t look out for our players. From someone who wasn’t there at the time. I can assure you I’ve never, ever been accused of that. I thought I was too much of a players’ coach.”

Just in case you don’t hate Florida (the over-hyped, over-exposed like North Carolina in basketball program of college football) enough yet, Meyer is doing his best to give you some rationale.

Illini WRs Secret Weapon Michael Hoohoomanwanuii

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The University of Illinois Wide Receiving Corps will be among the best in College Football this year. In this four part series, Paul M. Banks interviews and profiles each of the top four Illini pass catching threats.

Part 3: Michael Hoohoomanwanuii

Part 4: Arrelious “Rejus” Benn

Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois

Height: 6-5. Weight: 274.

Projected 40 Time: 4.73.

Projected Round (2010): 6-7.

Info courtesy of Walter Fooball.com

Tight End Michael Hoomanawanui (Yes, I actually know how to pronounce his name, it’s “ho-ho-mah-now-uh-new-e) or “Ho-Ho” as most people around the Illinois program call him, makes everyday Christmas Day for Illini QBs with his pass catching and route running abilities.

“I’ve really been working on becoming a complete tight end with blocking and receiving. Last year I put it all together and people got to see that, so hopefully I can just build on that and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Ho-Ho said during my exclusive conversation with him Illini Media Day. Last week Michael was named to the Mackey Award Watch List, an honor to be bestowed upon the nation’s top Tight End. He also spoke about the tremendous talent Illinois has at the wide receiver position, possibly the nation’s best.

“In the summer, we had some pretty tough workouts, we pulled together and pulled the team along, coach has just let us let it be our team with all the experience we have…I personally think they’re one of the best in the country, but right now all it is, is potential and Coach has been talking about how we got to turn potential into performance, they’ve been doing great in camp so far, so we’ll see how it translates into performance,” Ho-ho said. If he does go to the next level, who exactly might be his role model? La Lafayette Illinois Football

“Tony Gonzalez, Gates, Olsen, there’s a lot of great guys out there, so I try to take something from each of their games and I’ll be alright,”


Illinois Wide Receivers- Jeff Cumberland

The University of Illinois Wide Receiving Corps will be among the best in College Football this year. In this four part series, Paul M. Banks interviews and profiles each of the top four Illini pass catching threats.

In Jeff Cumberland, the Illini passing game has a big, make that a very big target. “Because of my size, a lot of people other than my teammates don’t know how strong or fast I actually am. But in addition to being physically big, I’m smart I watch film, I know the game, I know the coverages,” Cumberland told me at Illini Media Day.

“You wouldn’t think someone who’s 240, 250 plus could run as fast as me so teams that don’t know when they see me on film and think I’m not that fast, but I’m getting my separation. They might think ‘he can’t run by you, may be he’ll run inside,” the 6’5” senior with approximate 4.6 speed replied when I asked him about his size possibly making him deceptively fast.

During our exclusive conversation I also asked him what larger receivers in the NFL he models his game on. “I would say Brandon Marshall, he’s big strong, has agility, I really look up to him, Andre Johnson too.” cumberland2

Cumberland came into the University of Illinois as a very highly tight end. The recruiting services loved him as he was named PrepStar All-American, the nation’s No. 66 overall recruit by ESPN.com, and a four-star by Rivals.com and Scout.com. He was slow to develop as a tight end his freshman and sophomore years, but when he was moved to receiver in middle of 2007, his career began to blossom as he was extremely productive during the last four games or so.

Cumberland talked about the transition. “There was also a mismatch. When I was at tight end, there were a lot of linebackers covering me, who I can run right past them. I feel the same way playing receiver outside, I’m just as fast as DBs if not faster, and physical.” Last year he was fairly productive, but 2009 looks to be a breakout year for him. Provided there are enough balls to go around in the Illini’s extremely talented receiving corps.

“Something that we all are trying to do is use the chances we get as much as we can. We each have to take as much advantage of the playing time we get because there’s a lot of guys who can step up and perform if you aren’t,” Cumberland stated. Of course, all this depth could be a blessing or a curse- and it depends on how the coaching staff and Illini quarterback Juice Williams manage the situation. Cumberland spoke about the positive potential:

“Rather than one person to get 70 balls and the next person to get 30 balls, you spread the balls out, when you got so many weapons…there’s going to be less double teams and triple teams when they have to worry about everybody that’s out on the field; instead of just one person.”

What did I miss?: The Favre who? edition

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By H. Jose Bosch

In just its fourth installment, What did I miss is tweaking itself a bit. For the first three weeks we’ve been very newspaper dependent with the links. This week we’ll try being more blog orientated for two reasons: 1. Blogs tend to be more interesting and funny 2. Blogs tend to be more interesting and funny.

That’s not to say we’ll ignore papers (we will for this week only). But from now on this weekly feature will be drawn primarily from the blogsphere with a sprinkling of interesting feature-style stories from the main stream media. Now back to you regularly scheduled post.

Wow. Minnesota has been tearing it up in the sports world this week. First was the return of Brett Favre, this time in a Vikings jersey. Then our boy Andy Weise and his well-placed sources informed the world that Ricky Rubio just might be coming to Minnesota after all.

fargoI don’t think Minnesota has received this much attention since Frances McDormand won an Oscar for her role in Fargo; which, by the way, was mostly filmed in North Dakota even though it’s set in Minnesota. So enjoy the attention Minnesota. It might be a while before you have another week as eventful as this.

As for the rest of What did I miss, this is what went on in the NFC North/Big Ten foot print that didn’t have to do with Favre-Rubio.

If you like poetry and like Chicago sports, then you’ll love this new blog at Chicago Now, which combines sports blogging with haiku. Nothing I read about the Bears’ 27-20 loss to the Bills sums up the experience quite like this:

High expectations
Lead to high disappointment.
But who is to blame?
-Andrew Braverman-

This might become my new favorite blog to stop by. Funny and original. You should take a look.

Crocs, the company that manufactures those annoying-looking but incredibly-comfortable shoes, is teaming up with new Piston Charlie Villanueva to donate their shoes to children in the Dominican Republic.
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I can’t help but think: “Leave it to the U.S. to peddle its no-longer-useful-fads onto poorer countries. All kidding aside, it’s really a great gesture from one of Detroit’s newest pro athletes.

Speaking of the Pistons, the fellow (fellers?) at Life on Dumars has been running an interesting little series called Forgotten Pistons. Here’s a link to the first one posted last Sunday but they’re all fun, short reads. I didn’t think players so irrelevant could make for a good blog post, but they do.

We have a little Michigan State presence here at The Sports Bank and by little I mean zero. So here’s some (gulp) Spartan love. The Other Side of Spartan Sports (an interesting take on MSU sports if you ask me) likes Michigan State’s agreement to play the three Michigan directional schools 12 times in the next 10 years. The news is significant because the Spartans have agreed to one road game for each series, which is rare for a Big Ten team to do.

The blog Girafinha threw out a very interesting nugget: Ann Arbor is currently under consideration as a venue for the U.S.’s 2018/2022 World Cup bid. Interesting read.

TCW at the Bucks Diary has called his shot early and says the Bucks will win AT LEAST 40 games this season. How many other bloggers will follow suit?

Cubby-Blue’s reaction to Tuesday night’s loss is horribly disturbing yet hilarious all at the same time. This kind of Web site makes me wish I knew how to do something other than write.

Good news Packers fans: Via Ticket News, those scalped tickets you’ll want to buy for Favre’s return to Lambeau Field will now be easier to buy!
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The sad thing about this video, via Total Packers, is that it might be the only time Ashton Kutcher has been funny in at least five years.

The Hour announces that UConn will christen the newly renovated Michigan Stadium in 2010 and will host the Wolverines in 2013, when I’ll invariably still be looking for a journalism job.

The college football season hasn’t even begun but we already have a playoff-is-better-than-the-current-system blog post, courtesy of the Phoenix Club. But, this post is worth reading because it’s the most creative playoff system I’ve ever seen proposed.

It’s essentially based on the European soccer champion’s league format, which could never work in the U.S. I love it and it’s interesting to see how the brackets would play out based on last season. Why is this relevant? Four Big Ten teams (Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa) would be in the playoffs under this system.

Last but not least is just a random video that you can forward to all your friends at work. Sometimes it’ll be sports related and sometimes it won’t be. This week it won’t be. Enjoy!

BREAKING! The Cubs sale is finally OVAH!

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By Paul Schmidt

The story that wouldn’t die seems to finally have died.

Well…sort of.

The Chicago Cubs have officially been sold to the Ricketts family, and primarily Tom Ricketts, self-professed die-hard Cubs fan who lived just a short, short walk from the stadium.  Ricketts and his family threw down the tidy sum of 800 million dollars — foldin’ money, really — to earn a 95 percent stake in the team.

This includes the team, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet, which owns the right to broadcast several Cubs’ games every season, as well as White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks games.

Here’s where things get a little hinky, though.  The Ricketts won’t be taking over until after the baseball season (October to November), because there still are several hurdles to making the deal.  With the Tribune Company still dealing with Chapter 11, the court must approve any major sale of assets, though that does seem like a formality at this point.

The Cubs must also come out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as the Tribune seems to believe that will leave the team’s “title” free and clear of any debt that the Tribune may have with it.

Finally, there is the small issue of MLB approving the sale, as well, and the owners approving the new Cubs ownership.  This is, truly, the only thing that I can think of that could hold the sale up, because even though there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the owners not to approve the Ricketts family, it wouldn’t be the first time that they completely and illogically say that someone isn’t fit to own a baseball team.

Still, it isn’t like this happens every day in sports, let alone in Cubs history.  It certainly does appear that we are just a few scant weeks away from having just the seventh owner in the 138 year history of Chicago Cubs professional baseball.

Packer preseason predictions and awards: From 6-10 to 11-5

Browns Packers Football

By Jake McCormick

I was originally going to devote a full article to the Packers’ special teams units, but I think I can sum them in one sentence. Kicker Mason Crosby is one of the best in the league, Will Blackmon is a great return man, and the punter battle between Jason Kapinos and Durant Brooks needs to be solved soon because I feel like I could try out for the position. Now with that condensed to simple explanations, here’s my list of preseason award prediction for the 2009 Green Bay Packers.

2009 record – 11-5 (4-2 in the North)

Getting the Cowboys at home helps, and they will split the series with the Vikings and Bears, with the home team winning each battle. I don’t trust Favre in cold weather, and the Bears won’t win at Lambeau in Week 1 on national television. The team’s toughest games come at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, Baltimore at home, and at Arizona the last week of the season. Otherwise, the Packers have a very winnable schedule until the last five weeks of the season, and there’s no game that is considered a guaranteed loss.

Offensive MVP – QB Aaron Rodgers

Aaron RodgersThis is a big duh. Rodgers won’t have to put up the numbers he did last year that basically carried my fantasy football season (I drafted him again this year as a thank you to my autodraft a year ago). Given the overwhelming pressure on Rodgers last year for the obvious reasons, it’s safe to say he exceeded all expectations mentally and statistically. Now without the ESPN interrogation light shining directly in his eyes, Rodgers can improve his clutch decision making and leadership abilities during pressure situations. Both of those were really his only flaws, and I’ll trade fantasy points for more heroics any day.

Defensive MVP – MLB Nick Barnett

Nick BarnettI could easily pick a defensive back here, but I have a feeling Barnett will be the glue in the 3-4 defense similar to James Harrison’s role with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s obviously not the same player, nor is he as dumb (not visiting the White House because he didn’t like the fact that the Cardinals would’ve been invited if they had won? C’mon…). But Barnett will provide a spark in emotional leadership that was all too sparse in 2008.

Most Improved Defensive Player – Justin Harrell…just kidding! It’ll be the Jeremy Thompson/Clay Matthews LB platoon

Jeremy ThompsonI’d love to think that Harrell’s back, which has roughly the toughness of a 79-year-old man, would be healthy enough for him to contribute the way a semi-bust first round pick should. The Packers need all the help they can get from the defensive line, but the player that will get everybody turning their heads in a “who the hell is this guy?” fashion will be converted linebacker Jeremy Thompson. He is the overlooked 3-4 DE-to-LB conversion project, as Aaron Kampman grabs most of the questions and spotlight, but Thompson has played well enough to pass rookie Clay Matthews on the depth chart.

I think they’ll eventually be splitting time, but for now Thompson looks like he’s on his way to a successful 2009 after being drafted in the fourth round last year. Of course, this is all contingent on both players staying healthy, as neither will play in Saturday’s game against Buffalo. Another successful late round selection acts as a good tranquilizer when I start thinking about the bust that is Justin Harrell.

Most Improved Offensive Player – RB Ryan Grant

Ryan GrantGrant’s career high 1,200 rushing yards in 2008 shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking he had a good season. He averaged 3.9 ypc, only scored four touchdowns, and elicited an always-hilarious sarcastic remark from my roommate because of his lack of fantasy value. But now that Grant has his precious contract and has been through his first full training camp as a Packer, he will return to his 2007 form and take a lot of pressure off of Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.

Brandon Jackson outplayed Grant towards the end of the year and DeShawn Wynn is reportedly becoming a confident runner. They won’t take too many carries away from Grant, but it allows the Packers to be flexible and will wear defenses down so Grant can execute the Shake N Bake to finish them off. This is the year that Grant will become a consistent runner, which means I might not get so pissed at Mike McCarthy for his run-run-pass play-calling.

Defensive Comeback Player – DE Cullen Jenkins

Cullen JenkinsBefore he was injured in Week 4, Jenkins was looking like a great compliment to Aaron Kampman. The Packer pass rush noticeably suffered without him, and Jenkins’ health is crucial if this defense is going to fulfill its potential. Although the 3-4 system will ask him to do more hole-plugging than pass rushing, Jenkins can be an absolute beast and has experience playing as a DT/DE hybrid. Jenkins had 2.5 sacks before going down for the season last year, and with the other starting defensive end position still unknown, he will be counted on as a consistent and experienced player. You may not hear his name called every play, but Jenkins’ versatility will elevate the play of everyone around him.

Rookie of the Year – DE/DT B.J. Raji

BJ RajiRaji will see playing time at both the nose tackle and defensive end positions, and he has the body and power to do it. The Packers went almost purely defensive in the 2009 draft, and with Clay Matthews’ development slowed by a hamstring injury, Raji wins this award almost by default. He will contribute right away and I can guarantee he won’t be another Justin Harrell. Raji, Jenkins, and nose tackle Ryan Pickett have the talent to make volleyball-like rotations around the entire line. As long as he stays healthy, the Ewok-looking Raji will fulfill every expectation the organization and fan base has for him. I’m definitely looking forward to his debut against the Bills on Saturday.

Biggest Improvement Needed – Finish the game!!!

If we look at the Packers’ 2008 season by quarter, you’d swear Mike Packers loseMcCarthy prefers to let his car warm up a bit before putting it into drive, as they were shut out in the first quarter in six games. Green Bay was only shut out seven times combined in the second and third quarters. When it came to closing the game out Trevor Hoffman-style, the Packers opted for a much more acceptable Derrick Turnbow/Eric Gagne impersonation. In the two overtime games against the Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears, the Packer offense didn’t even sniff the ball. Likewise, Green Bay threw up a big o-fer in games decided by four points or less in 2008, going 0-7. A Bleacher Report article does a good job of breaking down their late game deficiencies.

The bottom line here is that the offense, defense, and special teams need to pull their weight in crunch time. If the Packers prove they can play football after the 6:00 mark in the fourth quarter, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll finish at the top of the division, or at least take a wild card spot.

Stretch Run Sox Exchange

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By: Paul M Banks and Soxman

And then there were two. The AL Central pennant race -and I use that term loosely- is heating up as our hometown heroes are the only team left in the AL Central that could conceivably give the Detroit Tigers a run at the division crown. The Sox are currently in a holding pattern just two point five games off the division leading pace. But are they poised to take off and take control once their newly acquired ace, Jake Peavy gets here? Read on to find out…

(PMB) Well it looks like the two teams that are most hated by White Sox Nation, the Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs (I listed the Twins first for a reason) are essentially out of their respective races, while the White Sox will fight on into late August, what are your thoughts on our chances down the stretch? Do you think the recent acquisitions of Alex Rios and Jake Peavy make them “favorites?” Peavy did look phenomenal in his first rehab start.

(SM)  Out of their races?  Even if the Twins are only 3.5 games in back of the Chicago White Sox, I never count them out of a race.  NO SOX FAN SHOULD.  Our record at the dome against them is horrible and despite our 13-12 record against American League East opponents, our toughest road trip of the year awaits us as we travel to Boston, New York and then back to Minnesota, where we were swept on our last visit.soxman

I think the AL Central race will come down to the wire, but the next week could make or break us.  The Tigers have an easier schedule then the Sox in the last six weeks of the season as well, so this will remain an uphill battle.

While almost no sports enthusiast agrees with me, I liked both deals.  Rios is going to be an excellent CF for years to come unlike Brian Anderson who is “proving” he’s an everyday player in Boston hitting .167 and making errors.

While I know many fans feel we need Jake Peavy to win, we should not rush him back.  Even if he’s healthy and his confidence is not where it needs to be, his return would hurt us more than help us.

(PMB) One thing the Sox have going for them is their winning record against baseball’s toughest division by far, the AL East. No other team in the Central can boast of that. However, the flip side is a losing record against both the West and Central. What does Chicago need to do to take care of business, in their own time zone? And what are we going to do about Scott Linebrink…before he degenerates into Mike MacDougal part two.
(SM) Well, maybe Linebrink needs to become Mike MacDougal right now!  He’s the Nationals closer, posting a 2.20 ERA with 13 saves in 32 IP.

The Sox have to close games and execute.  It’s very simple.  The White Sox are hitting .246 as team from the 7th inning on.  Players are swinging for the fences in bunt situations, making mental mistakes on the bases, and Alexei?  Let’s just say his mental mistakes warranted AJ shoving him in Minneapolis the last time the two met in the dome.

(PMB) Great point about MacDougal. Time to talk individual awards. Mark Buerhle has certainly got some national recognition for his achievements, although nowhere near enough as he should. As you like to point out, he’s vastly underrated. Any chance he wins the Cy Young? If not him, who should grab it in the AL? Zach Greinke, Roy Halladay?

(SM) Buehrle is an awesome all-around player, but not outstanding in any one category therefore, he’s not likely to garner much Cy Young consideration.  He doesn’t even hit the top five in the American League in innings pitched, strikeouts, or ERA, yet he is capable of throwing a perfect game.

If the Sportsbank were given a vote on the Cy Young, my vote this year would go to Zack Greinke.  He’s first in the AL in ERA (2.44), 4th in innings pitched (173), and second in strikeouts (182), which translates to domination at his position.  Considering he was almost out of baseball two years ago with severe depression, his comeback is amazing.

(PMB) True. He’s “slowed down” over these last couple months, with an ERA of 3.51. Most pitchers would kill for those numbers. How about Rookie of the Year? Gordon Beckham may be my new man-crush. And Chris Getz is having himself a solid year as well. Who do you see as their chief competition?white_sox-old-school-logo

(SM) The things Gordon Beckham has done since getting called up have to make him a strong contender for Rookie of the Year.  In just 239 ABs, Beckham is hitting .297, 7 HR, 44 RBI and 5 SB.  He has more RBIs than Carlos Quentin.

In my opinion, is chief competition is Oakland’s Andrew Bailey.  He’s completely dominated as a closer, notching 22 saves and posting 2.01 ERA with 74Ks in just 67 IP.  Opponents are hitting just .173 against him.  He’s actually posted better numbers than Jonathan Papelbon.  Saves aside, he’s the third most dominating closer in the AL this season.  With 22 Saves and 5 wins, that means Bailey has factored into more than 50% of the A’s wins this season.

Even though Oakland is a horrible team, those numbers are hard to ignore.

(PMB) I agree. Good to see a former Kane County Cougar achieving big things. I was very glad to make it out to Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva last weekend.

Alright, let’s blare PODs, “BOOM” as we go to our “closer” feature, Maybe or Mirage, where we hit 5 quick points on the White Sox and offer our opinion whether it is a sign of things to come or something likely to fade quickly?  Remember, no answer can be longer than 20 words!  Let’s play ball…

The White Sox Will win the AL Central

(SM) Maybe.  What kind of Super hero would I be if I said no?

(PMB) Mirage. It’ll come down to the wire though

Freddy Garcia will stay in the Sox rotation.

(SM) Maybe, unless Bartolo Colon eats him.

(PMB) Mirage. But Ozzie said he’s a great golfer. So he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.

Alex Rios will go 20/20 in 2009

(SM) Maybe.  Definitely if Bartolo Colon doesn’t eat him.

(PMB) Maybe. If Colon can take down 20 White Castle Sliders in 20 minutes…he probably can


Bartolo Colon will pitch for the White Sox again in 2009

(SM) Mirage.  He’s “Where’s Waldo” at 400lbs.

(PMB) Mirage. Unless the Sox structure a new variable based pay contract for him filled with pizza and incentives

DeWayne Wise will make the 2009 Play-off roster

(SM) Mirage. Bartolo Colon will eat him.

(PMB) LOL! No way. He had his Al Bundy glory moment in Buerhle’s perfect game.

Chicago Bears Preseason Locale Shifts

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By Paul M. Banks

When the Bears shift location of their preseason practices and scrimmages, you truly know that autumn is near. On Thursday, the Bears broke Training Camp in Bourbonnais, and packed their bags for heading north to Halas Hall. It’s there, in the posh suburb of Lake Forest where the Bears will finish up the second half of their 2009 NFL preseason. The immediate focus will be on prepping for the preseason home opener versus the New York Giants on Saturday night.

This practice game will feature three Bears stars: Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, and Greg Olsen, who did not play in the preseason opener. “We want them to have a good series before they come out. Our history has been, for the most part, that in the second game the guys will play into the second quarter,” Lovie Smith told the media following the final practice session at Camp Bourbonnais.

The final session downstate featured a cutesy switcharoo. Many players switched jerseys with each other. Watching quarterback Jay Cutler dropping back and throwing passes while wearing Brian Urlacher’s number was a unique, if not bizarre experience. Usually #6 Cutler wearing Urlacher’s #54 was a great show of solidarity, and should make people forget what ex-teammate and current Minnesota Vikings receiver Bobby Wade claims Urlacher allegedly said about Cutler.

Lovie spoke about Cutler and Urlacher bonding through jersey sharing. “They kind of look alike, big stature, but that’s a tradition with our players right now, a lot of energy in camp. There’s nothing like the last day of training camp…I can still tell who Devin Hester is, some of the little skill guys even in a lineman number, you can still feel good about who he is,” Lovie said of the chicanery and tomfoolery.

So far this preseason has been industry standard. You’ve seen…

1. The multitude of really dumb fans reading too much into preseason games (i.e. idiots who now think the Cutler deal was a waste just because he looked terrible during the glorified practice in Buffalo last week).
2. Desperate sportswriters hyping up anything at all in order to manufacture something to talk about out of a non-story (Cutler’s Saturday night comments about Devin Hester were still being discussed on sports talk radio today.)

3. Position battles that might not sort themselves out until when games actually have significance. (Other than Hester, who’s going to play Wide Receiver?)

Expect more of all three between now and when the season kicks off in northern Wisconsin September 13th.