Month: October 2014

Candid opinions

Today, once again, I’m branching off into uncharted territory: to boldly blog where no one has blogged before.

Nah, just kidding. I’m just here to give some opinions about the mid-major college football landscape (which definitely has been blogged before).

For those of you unfamiliar with Division I college football, the conferences outside of the so-called “Power Five” football conferences are fighting for national respect.

The conferences are as follows: the Mountain West, the Sun Belt Conference, Conference USA, and the Mid-American Conference. The American Athletic Conference (formerly known as the Big East) is considered on the bubble–not quite a mid-major, but not Power Five material either. For arguments’ sake, let’s consider them mid-majors, too.

Traditionally and historically, there are several mid-major powers. I consider the current Top 10 mid-major powerhouse programs to be:

  1. Marshall Thundering Herd (C-USA)
  2. Bowling Green Falcons (MAC)
  3. Boise State Broncos (MW)
  4. East Carolina Pirates (AAC)
  5. UCF Knights (AAC)
  6. Nevada Wolf Pack (MW)
  7. Fresno State Bulldogs (MW)
  8. San Diego State Aztecs (MW)
  9. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC)
  10. Cincinnati Bearcats (AAC)

Of course, there are others. But those ten teams have proven themselves in the past decade and have carved out a unique niche in the national picture.

Now, let’s switch gears and discuss coaches. In my opinion, coaches at the mid-major level deserve more recognition and praise than they are given. Unlike Power Five coaches, these coaches fight hard to ensure that their facilities are good, their recruiting improves, and retain their student-athletes–all on a much lower budget than the Nick Sabans and the Urban Meyers of the world. Some of these programs are in remote areas without a local recruiting blueprint (i.e. Boise State, Marshall) while others have stringent academic/moral requirements (i.e. BYU, the Air Force Academy).

 

COACHES ON THE RISE:

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Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina: McNeill’s 2014 squad has had big victories on the road against ACC foes (Virginia Tech and North Carolina) and is currently 3-0 against conference competition. The Pirates’s passing attack is one of the best in the nation, but don’t forget that McNeill made his mark as a defensive guru under Mike Leach at Texas Tech (2000-2009). As an ECU alum, he’s also helped raise booster support and get local kids to join his program in Greenville.

 

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Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
: The 45-year-old Anderson looks likes he’s finally brought stability to Jonesboro; ASU has had four different head coaches in the past four years. A noted recruiter, Anderson coached under spread offense guru Larry Fedora at Southern Miss and North Carolina. He’s also a Jonesboro native, giving him reason to stick around longer than his predecessors.

 

 

 

 

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Jim McElwain, Colorado State: McElwain is a proven winner, and he’s already done a marvelous job turning things around for the Rams, who finished 8-6 and won the New Mexico Bowl last year. McElwain coached at Alabama under Nick Saban from 2008-2011, where he was part of two national championship teams.

 

 

 

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Matt Rhule, Temple: After positive results under Al Golden and Steve Addazio, Temple needed someone to keep the momentum going. Enter the 39-year-old Rhule, who spent six years as an assistant with the Owls before spending 2012 as an assistant with the New York Giants (he returned to Philly before last season). Rhule’s significant success on the recruiting trail is already reaping rewards on the field, and that’s keeping the Owls relevant in the American Athletic Conference.

 

 

 

10301P. J. Fleck P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: You can’t say enough about the energy that Fleck has created around the WMU program. In addition to major facility upgrades, Fleck pulled in a decorated recruiting class in February 2014–the highest-rated class in the history of the Mid-American Conference. MAC programs had better watch out, because Fleck’s only 33 and he’s just getting things started.

 

 

 

 

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Brian Polian, Nevada: Polian has the bloodlines (he’s the son of longtime NFL executive Bill Polian) and the recruiting acumen to make some noise in Reno. The Wolf Pack have great facilities and a history of gridiron success, so Polian seems to have been a good match for them. He was an assistant coach at Notre Dame, Stanford, and Texas A&M, respectively, from 2005-2012.

 

 

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Willie Taggart, USF: Taggart is from the coaching tree of Jim Harbaugh, and he coached under Harbaugh at Stanford before turning around Western Kentucky’s program. Now, he’s back in his home state of Florida, where he’s looking to transform the underachieving USF Bulls into a conference contender. Taggart, age 38, has already done a great job at keeping Tampa-area recruits close to home, so he should get USF to where they need to be.

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Justin Fuente, Memphis: Fuente, a former Oklahoma quarterback and TCU assistant, has really built something out of nothing at Memphis. He still hasn’t led the Tigers to a bowl yet, but their time is coming, and when it does, Power Five conference teams will be on the phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT:

ncf_a_blankenship_b1_300Bill Blankenship, Tulsa: Blankenship had remarkable success at various Oklahoma high schools before heading to coach the Golden Hurricane in 2011. But Tulsa suffered through a 3-9 season in 2013, their final in Conference USA before heading off to the American Athletic Conference. His overall record is 23-23, including a 1-6 start this season. If things continue to go downhill, Blankenship might be given the axe sooner rather than later.

 

 

norm-chowNorm Chow, Hawaii: Chow, one of the most celebrated offensive minds in the country, finally got his first head coaching gig in his hometown of Honolulu. Since then, it’s been a nightmare for the 68-year-old Chow, going 6-26 in two and a half seasons. Hawaii’s suffered through porous defenses, mediocre offensive lines, and inconsistent QB play throughout Chow’s tenure. Will athletic director Ben Jay–who did not hire Chow–soon be forced to hit the reset button?

 

 

 

 

Georgia State v AlabamaTrent Miles, Georgia State: Miles has only been in Atlanta a year and a half, so he’s not on the hot seat just yet. But his record is a mere 1-19, with the lone victory (so far) coming over FCS Abilene Christian in the 2014 season opener. The Panthers are in the middle of a fertile recruiting region, but have an apathetic fanbase. Miles is no stranger to adversity, having built his alma mater’s program out of nothing (Indiana State), but this is a different situation.

 

 

Bob-Davie-390x220Bob Davie, New Mexico: In 2012, Davie surprised many by jumping from the ESPN broadcast booth into the middle of a train wreck in Albuquerque. His first season was better than expected (4-9) and his pistol offense has racked up yardage, but since 2012, the Lobos have been 5-14, including 1-10 in the Mountain West. Davie is on contract until 2019, but his days might be numbered if there isn’t significant improvement on both sides of the ball. His overall record? 9-23.

A fresh, new face

Note: This is a rare political post for my blog. I don’t normally post about such things on my blog, especially since Election Day is approaching, but I felt like this is a good time to share some of my own beliefs and values, as well as showcase the rising career of a politician that I admire.

 

It’s no secret that the Republican Party has been spinning its wheels for many years now. The GOP, nationally speaking, has lacked an identity and is focused on campaigning for moderate, wishy-washy candidates instead of people who stand up for traditional American principles. It seems as if the GOP is becoming a giant robot, capable of rejecting President Obama’s big-government programs, but not offering any viable solutions.

The Tea Party (along with the broader civil libertarian movement) has attempted to combat this trend by supporting candidates who believe in Constitutional values, civil liberties, and free markets–and who oppose the massive government spending machine that the Obama administration is building.

One such liberty-loving individual is Justin Amash, a 34-year-old Congressman who represents Michigan’s 3rd district (centered around the Grand Rapids area) and chairs the House Liberty Caucus.

Justin_Amash,_official_portrait,_112th_CongressBefore entering Congress in 2010, Amash was a businessman, a lawyer and a member of the Michigan House of Representatives. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Amash is an admirer of free-market economists such as Hayek and Bastiat, and believes that government overspending is one of the biggest problems that America faces today. He is part of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Broadly speaking, Amash advocates for common sense foreign policy, free-market solutions to healthcare issues, and is a fiscal conservative who advocates for economic and individual freedom. In his own words:

I follow a set of principles. I follow the Constitution, and that’s what I base my votes on–limited government, economic freedom, and individual liberty.

Amash is a supporter of decreased federal invention in energy and environmental issues, and has pushed for a common-sense foreign policy with less intervention and less defense spending. While he recognizes the need for both border security and national defense, Amash realizes that the current foreign policy system is severely flawed and urges for greater caution when going to war. As an Orthodox Church member and the son of a Palestinian Christian, he believes in a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He supports the Constitutional approach that only Congress has the power to declare war, and has also been a fierce critic of the unconstitutional data collecting/spying of the NSA against the American population. Amash is also pro-life and opposes government funding to organizations such as Planned Parenthood. He is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment as well.

So, how can Amash solve the GOP’s woes? First off, he can use his realistic, limited-government approach to reach out to groups (i.e., women and minorities) that the GOP has historically neglected. He can also bring common sense to Congress in a country muddled by government intervention and reckless spending.

Also, in an unprecedented move, Amash uses social media to explain the rationale for every single vote he casts in Congress, creating a new wave of transparency in government and appealing to younger voters who use Twitter and Facebook to get information.

Amash is a breath of fresh air in Congress–in his approach to voting, his transparency, and his strong system of values. I hope that Americans elect more like him in the near future: people who can make a convincing case for Constitutional values, economic prosperity, and individual freedoms.

I believe that Justin Amash is one of those people.

Saw (2004)

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Two men awaken in a filthy industrial bathroom, chained at the ankles to pipes across the room from each other. A dead man, who has quite literally blown his brains out, lies in between, holding both a tape recorder and a revolver in his hands.

The first man, Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), is an oncologist who lacks fulfillment in his life, despite his loving wife Alison (Monica Potter) and young daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega). The other man, named Adam (Leigh Whannell), is a photographer who hides his moral failings and issues under a deep layer of apathy.

Both men discover envelopes marked with their names in their pockets. They receive instructions on tapes that tell them what they must do to escape. Adam is simply instructed to find a way to escape, while Lawrence is told that his family has been kidnapped and will die at 6 PM unless he kills Adam. They are given clues hidden throughout the bathroom that give them a better understanding of what to do. Among these items are a single bullet (given to Lawrence in the envelope), a pair of hacksaws, and a disposable cell phone.

Lawrence reveals that they are being held captive by a serial kidnapper named “the Jigsaw Killer.” He’s not a serial killer per se; instead, he abducts the morally wayward and puts them in potentially lethal tests. More often than not, such tests are ironically symbolic of the main problem in the victim’s life. Should they survive, Jigsaw reasons, they will be grateful for every breath they take. Only one victim has survived, a heroin addict named Amanda (Shawnee Smith) who insists that Jigsaw helped her.

Two detectives, Steven Sing (Ken Leung) and David Tapp (Danny Glover), are hot on Jigsaw’s trail. Tapp suspects Lawrence of being the Jigsaw killer, and remains suspicious of him, even going as far as to conduct surveillance on Lawrence’s nearby apartment.

 

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As events unfold and the clock ticks (literally) in the bathroom, Adam and Lawrence piece together the puzzle and realize that the man who kidnapped Lawrence’s family is Zep (Michael Emerson), a hospital orderly who seems to harbor personal resentment towards Lawrence. Lawrence and Adam must fight to win their lives back, or die in the process.

 

 

This indie horror film, made on a minuscule budget of $1.2 million, was a remarkable financial success and helped kickstart the Saw franchise. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell (who also played Adam), both Australian ex-patriates, shot the film in less than a month in an L.A. studio lot. Then the film was released, grossing over $47 million in the U.S. alone-and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Saw is not without its faults. It’s not for the faint of heart, containing its share of graphic violence and scary moments. It also suffers from the frequent indie film pitfalls of average-to-below-average writing and acting. The film has a couple moments of lame dialogue, and Danny Glover is not particularly good as Detective Tapp.

What makes this film stand out is its originality. It intrigues you from the very beginning with its indelible images and grimy aesthetic. The premise feels very fresh in a horror/thriller genre that has become hopelessly dry in recent decades. Jigsaw, who is mostly unseen, is one of the most interesting villains in years.

Now, on to the acting. I admit that Leigh Whannell is a better writer than he is an actor. As Adam, he’s fairly decent, if not spectacular. Veteran actor Cary Elwes, famous for Glory, The Princess Bride, and Kiss the Girls, withstood a ton of criticism for his performance as Dr. Lawrence Gordon. However, his performance is actually pretty good and feels appropriate to the script.

Overall, this is a very solid film that sparked an even better franchise. Not for everyone, but it’s still a great way to spend the weekend…especially since Halloween is coming up!

 

Rating: 8/10

Released 2004

Directed by James Wan

Written by Leigh Whannell

Story by James Wan & Leigh Whannell

Produced by Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules and Mark Burg

Starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Makenzie Vega, Shawnee Smith

Rated R for strong grisly violence and language.

Paint Me In Light (2014)

Hey everyone. Looking into doing more music review on this blog, because hey, why not? I love music and always have, and I hope I can enlighten the masses about newer bands in genres that I like. I’ve been reviewing a lot of post-hardcore bands lately, and today is no exception: today’s review will be of Paint Me In Light by Nevada Rose.

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It’s been a whirlwind for Nevada Rose, a five-piece band originally from Roxbury, New Jersey. They debuted last year at the CMJ Music Marathon alongside He Is Legend, and were very impressive. Tragic Hero Records took notice, and Nevada Rose was quickly signed. Earlier this year, they released Paint Me In Light, which was produced by Andrew Wade (The Word Alive, A Day to Remember).

A lot of post-hardcore bands lose your interest after a few songs, but Nevada Rose does a good job of blending pop, EDM, and hardcore music in fresh ways. They don’t sound terribly generic, and I really in particular like the unclean vocals and the clean vocal, three-part harmonies on the tracks. Apparently, they put on a heck of a live show, too. This CD feels very energetic, which isn’t uncommon for a newer band, but I’m very impressed with how it’s bouncy, danceable, and intense all at the same time.

The main issue here is the lyrics. They aren’t shallow, but they aren’t terribly good, either. On a side note: it’s unfortunate that the majority of pop music has come to a point where it’s all money-driven, mostly talentless, and just boring. A lot of artists and lyricists don’t bother with writing anything substantial. For those of you who listen to Top 40 radio (or any modern pop, rap, or R&B), I’m obviously preaching to the choir. The music industry has become so commercialized and annoying.

Anyways…

Nevada Rose’s lyrics aren’t awful or cringeworthy, like other post-hardcore outfits such as Asking Alexandria and Capture the Crown (I challenge you to tolerate one of those songs–I double dare you). Nor do the lyrics feel uninspired or soulless, so it’s not due to a lack of effort. Nevada Rose definitely put the effort into it, but the end product just feels lacking. Honestly, this CD’s lyrics aren’t its strength; rather, its infectious energy, head-banging rhythms, and catchy hooks are the memorable part.

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I give this album a solid 7/10. But hey, if Nevada Rose keeps up the enthusiasm that they showed on Paint Me In Light, they could really progress fast in the metal scene. All they need is to fine-tune their lyrics, keep up the musical diversity, and enjoy what they do. They’re planning another tour soon, and hopefully they’ll follow that up with a sophomore album. I look forward to seeing if these guys can come up with some fun new stuff in the near future.

Track listing:

  1. This Wifi Sucks (0:43)
  2. 609 (3:45)
  3. Vanity (3:29)
  4. Anchors For Sunsets (3:20)
  5. Murals (3:48)
  6. Scars To Prove (3:36)
  7. I Was Born Single (2:54)
  8. Meet Me At Midnight (3:41)
  9. Stonybrook (3:03)
  10. Riot House (3:58)
  11. The Unrest (4:15)

Nevada Rose is:

Nicki Imperato – vocals

Justin DiMarco – guitar/vocals

Adam Ellenberger – guitar/programming

Mike Batchelder – bass

Kyle Cleffi – drums/programming

Gran Torino (2008)

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Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a disgruntled Korean War veteran and retired auto worker who doesn’t particularly like how his life has turned out. His wife recently passed away, and he is alienated from the rest of his family. His formerly working-class neighborhood in Highland Park, Michigan, has become filled with gang violence and poor Hmong immigrants from southeast Asia. Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), the local priest, attempts to comfort Walt following the death of his wife, to no avail.

Thao (Bee Vang), Walt’s neighbor, is a Hmong youth facing pressure from his troublemaking cousin to join a gang. As part of his initiation, Thao attempts to steal Walt’s prized 1952 Gran Torino. Walt catches him, and the gang members flee. Thao’s mother apologizes on her son’s behalf; in exchange, Thao begins to work for Walt, doing yardwork and odd jobs around the neighborhood. The insecure, impressionable Hmong teen begins an unlikely friendship with Walt, although Walt is hesitant to admit that they are friends.

When gang violence begins to escalate in the neighborhood and a personal tragedy affects Thao’s family, Walt becomes a reluctant defender of both this family and the neighborhood. Nothing fazes Walt these days, but he may be in over his head on this one.

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This film is remarkable. Clint Eastwood, who also directs the film, shows no signs of slowing down even at his age. He does an exceptional job on both sides of the camera. The script, written by Nick Schenk, was loved by both Eastwood and Warner Brothers executives. However, Eastwood has never commented publicly on why he desired to make the film.

Grant Torino was shot on a relatively small budget and was originally written to be set in northeast Minneapolis, a heavily Hmong neighborhood. Bee Vang, who plays Thao, hails from the Twin Cities region, while Ahney Her, who portrays Thao’s sister Sue, is from Lansing, Michigan.

Schenk, the screenwriter, developed friendships with many Hmong people while he worked in a factory and a video store in Bloomington, Minnesota in the early 90s. He learned about their history and was intrigued; the Hmong people, who live predominantly in Laos, Thailand, and parts of China, were on the American side in the Vietnam War. But when the war ended with a North Vietnamese victory, it wasn’t long before Laos fell to Communism as well. Many Hmong ended up in labor camps, while others fled to democratic countries, including the U.S. Schenk enlisted the creative help of several Hmong consultants while penning the script.

According to Schenk, aside from changing Minneapolis references to Detroit references, not a single line of dialogue was changed or modified. As a director, Eastwood rarely makes significant changes to scripts. Still, such an event is rare, if not unheard of, in Hollywood.

Working with inexperienced Hmong actors, Eastwood developed a low-key approach to directing Gran Torino. The script was written entirely in English, so all the Hmong actors had to be able to seamlessly transition during the scenes in which the Hmong language is spoken.

In the end, Gran Torino was a huge financial success, pulling in over $250 million at the box office worldwide and receiving great acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Personally, I love this movie and would encourage anyone (Eastwood fan or otherwise) to see it.

Rating: 9/10

Released 2008

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Screenplay by Nick Schenk

Story by Dave Johannson & Nick Schenk

Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley, Brian Haley, Brian Howe, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, and John Carroll Lynch

Rated R for language throughout and some violence.

Digital Renegade (2012)

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In 2012, after securing reasonable success with a pair of albums, Michigan-based electro-metal outfit I See Stars reinvented themselves. Plunging headfirst into their metalcore roots while retaining their dance-worthy synth work, the band began writing again shortly after finishing the 2011 Scream Like You Mean It Tour. In October, I See Stars headed to The Foundation Recording Studios in Connersville, Indiana to record their new CD. The result was Digital Renegade, released in March 2012.

If you’re familiar with 2009’s 3-D and the band’s sophomore effort The End of the World Party, the CD will appear and feel to be a bit jarring. Not that there weren’t occasional screams and breakdowns on their first two albums, but I See Stars is clearly progressing into a heavier sound and into a more aggressive, less-pop-sounding rhythm. The band members call this style “EHM” — electronic hardcore music (as opposed to the ever-popular EDM). And even if you aren’t familiar with I See Stars’ earlier works, this CD could be a better place to start due to its ability to transcend genres easily.

Burn every bridge you ever built. How do you live with yourself?

The album explodes right out of the gates with these lyrics, penned for the opening track “Gnars Attacks.” This is a perfect intro to what we’re going to expect from Digital Renegade. It really delivers in a lot of ways, and keeps you wanting more. Track number two, “NZT48,” is a great follow-up to the raw energy of “Gnars Attacks,” while still maintaining a healthy dose of electro music, catchy beats, and melodic hooks. The title track is up next, and there’s a lot to like about it, as it opens with a nifty little EDM hook before heading into the thick of it. “Endless Sky” is the same way, featuring guest vocals and an excellent breakdown at the end of the song.

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The next few songs sort of break away from uncharted territory, going back to an old-school, debut-album feel with “Underneath Every Smile” and “Summer Died in Connersville.” These are sure to satisfy I See Stars’ original fanbase, while “Mystery Wall” (one of the album’s best songs) feels like a post-hardcore anthem. Meanwhile, “iBelieve” has an acoustic rock feel to it, giving the CD more diversity.

One of the CD’s biggest hits was the introspective “Electric Forest,” which features guest vocals from Cassadee Pope. This song really shows the softer side of the band, although it picks up as it goes along. Very well-performed effort from all involved, and Pope’s vocals fit perfectly into the mix. Despite the song’s title (it’s named for the famously rowdy Electric Forest Festival in I See Stars’ home state of Michigan), it’s quieter and more pop-oriented than the rest of the album.

And finally, we have “Filth Friends Unite,” which feels like a great way to close out this 36-minute musical journey. When it’s all said and done, this song shows the style that I See Stars is progressing towards, maintaining their signature pop-rock and EDM elements while also throwing in aggressive screams and heavier breakdowns.

I should add that while I enthusiastically recommend Digital Renegade to anyone, there’s sometimes a jarring effect in this album. It’s designed that way, quite frankly, jumping genres and keeping things unpredictable, but it doesn’t always feel like it’s expertly-done. Maybe it’s a mixing and mastering issue, but it just doesn’t feel entirely balanced or conventional. With that being said, there’s plenty to like here and I’d encourage all of you to give Digital Renegade a shot.

I See Stars is:

Devin Oliver — vocals

Zach Johnson — unclean vocals/synth/keyboards/programming

Brent Allen — lead guitar

Jimmy Gregerson — rhythm guitar

Jeff Valentine — bass

Andrew Oliver — drums

Song listing:

  1. Gnars Attacks (3:29)
  2. NZT48 (4:19)
  3. Digital Renegade (3:12)
  4. Endless Sky (3:33)
  5. Underneath Every Smile (3:16)
  6. Mystery Wall (4:07)
  7. iBelieve (2:37)
  8. Summer Died In Connersville (3:18)
  9. Electric Forest (4:26)
  10. Filth Friends Unite (3:59)