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Saturday, December 27, 2008

I hate it when that happens.

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized parallel tearing.)

So, did you hear? Apparently the very fabric of the universe got torn apart today.

Unfortunately it didn't involve more themes than just two.

Still, it's kind of funny that the previous comic involved Death of Being Stared At By a Giant Frog going back in time to deliver Me to administer his own death. Good way to build to the moment.

Or maybe it'll just cause reality to shift to a new paradigm.

Perhaps in this new paradigm, I actually climb out of my three-comic rut.

These sorts of posts are only useful if you meet me in person. I sometimes get mad at stuff online, but that either manifests itself in the physical world (where you can't be affected) or completely differently online.

If I'm getting too mad for me to control myself, the best thing you can do is let it happen.

Whatever you do, don't attempt to apply some sort of reprimand while it's in progress, certainly not one stemming from letting my madness make you mad as well.

Don't try to psychoanalyze it, don't tell me I'm doing anything wrong, don't tell me I'm getting mad at something minor. Any of those things will just make the problem worse, or even reignite it if it's seeming to subside.

Human emotion, by definition, is not rational. So why do we need to make it seem rational? Why do I need to be mad at anything in particular?

Why do I need to become something inhuman? When I get mad, I end up mad at myself for being mad, and then I end up mad at myself for caring whether or not I'm mad or expressing it in a certain way. I'd be a thousand times less mad if I was just allowed to be mad.

(99% of the time, you can get along with me fine, although being friendly or striking up a conversation or even trying to interact with me in any way that's not mandated in some way is not going to work and it's going to be counterproductive. But if you don't take some tidbits away for the other 1% and then label me as a monster - or even seek to reduce that 1% by not lighting the match in the first place - it's your own damn loss.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's been too long since I reviewed THIS David Morgan-Mar webcomic!

(From Darths and Droids. Click for full-sized heroic last words.)

I promise, an actual review of an actual webcomic I haven't properly reviewed before is coming on Tuesday. It's hard because a lot of popular webcomics are taking the holidays off, and I'm not even getting a full week with the comic I actually intend on reviewing.

But I feel I would be remiss not to note the occurance of something fans of the movies probably all saw coming: the death of the character of Qui-Gon. Perhaps unintentionally, the Comic Irregulars actually made even a cold-hearted bastard like me feel a little bit of sorrow at Qui-Gon's death, mostly in the previous strip where Jim manipulates himself out of his last chance to save his character.

The rest of this post may come across as me being, well, a cold-hearted bastard. But of course, we know that, the beliefs of certain Christian fundamentalists to the contrary, the death of a character in a game does not equate to the death of the actual person playing him. We know that we can put relatively good money on Jim re-rolling a new character and rejoining the game. I'm not in a position to speculate, not having watched much more than the first half or so of Episode I out of the whole series, and from what I read there's not much room in Attack of the Clones for any real new character to be introduced and heavily featured.

Which brings me to my next point: we are now entering the denouement of The Phantom Menace, and it's interesting to note that this strip is #197. It makes me wonder if the Comic Irregulars have a plan in mind to wrap this one up with strip #200, and devote 200 strips to each movie. Based on the Wikipedia synopsis of the movie, I would imagine if that were the case, #198 would be the arrival of Palpatine on Naboo, #199 the scene with the Jedi Council, and #200 the Naboo victory celebration - although that's still a rather cramped space, and by necessity still excludes some scenes, although aside from Qui-Gon's dead body, there are no PCs present for the cremation of Qui-Gon.

And that's about it, and as I am wont to do, I find myself without a real ending for this one. I could talk about how Darths and Droids as a whole has felt as of late, and how for some reason I haven't really got much of a big-fight feel, mostly because of the head-spinning cross-cutting. But instead I just repeat: a genuine new (but really rather old) webcomic reviewed on Tuesday!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Quick post

I had a post in mind for Thursday, but I never could quite remember what it was.

I could have easily decided to take today off because of the holiday. But my streak will continue dammit!

I do have something planned for tomorrow though...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Robert A. Howard, this one's for you! Or: On art in webcomics. Or: This really would have worked better if it was color like every other Wotch strip.

(From The Wotch. Click for full-sized awkward moments.)

Good evening. Today I'm here to talk about a grave condition afflicting webcomics all across the land. I call it Casey and Andy Eyes.

This condition, afflicting many a webcomic but especially those drawn by marginal artists or those overly inspired by anime, has as its major symptom extremely large eyes, often taking up more than half the face, with outlines that stop in the inside. Also accompanying it is rather cartoonish-looking faces, with features formed very simply. No cure is known aside from a general improvement in art skills, either on the part of the artist or, in more extreme cases, a replacement of the artist with someone more skilled.

Okay, so the only two webcomics I've actually seen the condition in are Casey and Andy itself and The Wotch. And El Goonish Shive. (You might be able to stretch it out enough to include Sluggy Freelance as well.) But isn't it odd that they share almost the exact same art style? How can this sort of weird coincidence possibly happen? The Wotch FAQ implies that Anne and Robin might not have the genders they're portrayed as; is it possible that Anne Onymous is secretly Andy Weir?

And what the hell am I doing criticizing art styles? Am I not the guy who has long held that art doesn't matter?

Well, yes.

This is not a review of The Wotch in general. I might decide to write that review at some later date. But this is because I still haven't found anyone backing my opinion and I've seen plenty of people hold up art as the holy grail. This is an attempt to codify what art in webcomics actually means, what counts as bad art and what counts as good art, and why the art of Order of the Stick and, in my opinion, Ctrl+Alt+Del fall under the latter.

Because I still don't understand why CAD gets hammered for its art style. The lines are straight and polished, there's actual shading on the characters, there's variety in character's noses, the hairstyles aren't a few semi-random angular lines but often sport actual, separated tufts, not just random spikes, and the characters look reasonably like real people you might actually meet on the street somewhere. Casey and Andy can't claim any of that. Yet CAD having bad art is a joke as old as the strip itself and no one talks about Casey and Andy's art. Nor can C&A claim, like OOTS or xkcd or Dinosaur Comics or Irregular Webcomic, that its art style isn't off-putting enough to turn me off to what might otherwise be a pretty good comic strip.

But why? If art really does matter after all, what do those strips do right that Casey and Andy doesn't? At first glance, it might look as though there isn't really that much difference between the OOTS art style and the C&A art style. It's not just, as it was once explained to me regarding CAD, that those comics have good stories that overcome their marginal art, because that would seem to just as easily explain Casey and Andy's popularity. I think it comes down to this:

OOTS, xkcd, and Dinosaur Comics all revel in their cartooniness.

They accept that their art styles will never be any appreciably different from how they started out, and so they create their own bar of realism. A comparison of OOTS to any (well, most) of the hordes of its worse-drawn ripoffs will help to show this. OOTS follows its own rules of proportion, maintaining a proper amount of space between facial features and within the face, and none of it comes off as artificial. Casey and Andy is at least as cartoony as OOTS, yet it attempts to go for a realistic rendering of its characters, and in the process falls into its own twisted version of the Uncanny Valley.

For all that people criticize it, CAD's much-maligned "B^U" is actually a rather ingenious way of getting around this problem. Something that often doesn't get a lot of credit is that Tim Buckley gets quite a bit of mileage from variations on a single face. It can be used to portray wonder, anger, shock, panic, excitement, happiness, and of course, boredom. The result is that CAD succeeds in creating its own bar for realism and only needing to pass that bar on any given strip. That's all anyone needs to ask of it. Compare CAD with Real Life, which truth be told, has its own version of B^U. In fact its art style is strikingly similar to CAD's (at least Buckley has real eyes with different levels of closed-ness and not just dots!), yet it has never attracted anywhere near the same level of vitriol for it. (Neither, for that matter, has PVP, but PVP characters do vary in the size of their eyes, if only a little.)

Part of this is because part of what people really hate about CAD is its use of copy-and-paste as a shortcut. Copy-and-paste can be a turn-off, but mostly when it's really obvious. There are a couple of different things someone can do when they catch themselves copy-and-pasting. They can attempt to hide it, either by trying to introduce certain subtle or not so subtle variations or putting the focus on the content of the dialogue. Or they can go whole-hog and embrace it, often limiting themselves to one piece of art per character, in the vein of Dinosaur Comics. Both approaches have their pitfalls. The former often works best when combined with the latter, or when there are a lot of variations, or when the writing is really good (or at least controversial). (CAD falls into the "lots of variations" category.) The latter works best when you go so far as to use clip art for it, or when the art is good enough to overcome the fact there's not much of it, or when you set the bar for detail at a point that fits the quality of the art itself. (Trying to get really detailed when all you can draw is stick figures probably isn't a good idea.) Sadly, I'm not sure Sandsday does the best job of any of those options.

So yes, it's very possible that it is important for a webcomic to have at least passable art, and not seem like the random scrawlings of a ten-year-old. But at least in webcomics, it's clear that there are some exceptions to that rule, including what I like to call The Wick Scalar Exemption: if the quality and detail of the art scale with all other aspects of that quality appropriately, whether it be by reducing the quality of the features to size with the quality of the body (while still maintaining good proportions) or by mitigating the impact of engaging in cut-and-paste, even if the overall quality is completely primitive (as in xkcd), it doesn't count as bad art for the purposes of maintaining an audience because it should achieve a level of internal consistency.

This level can seem rather hard to reach, and I suspect part of the problem people have with "B^U" is that it is ever so slightly jarring with the quality of the rest of Tim Buckley's bodies, and gives just a little too little detail. (Similarly, I'd say Sandsday's biggest problem is that, for the most part, it has an Order of the Stick level of detail, but only two or three mouths per character, not to mention no hair and no skin color. On the other hand, perhaps the reason Real Life escapes the B^U charge is because it doesn't provide as much detail in the eyes!) Certain features, such as straight lines and appealing curves, are pretty much sacrosanct, but in at least some areas of webcomic art, it's more important to know how good you are than to try to be any better than that. Strips like Casey and Andy and The Wotch try to be better than they really are, stuff their comics with too much detail, and fall flat. The lesson of strips like Ctrl+Alt+Del is that, assuming you aren't a photorealistic artist, it takes a Goldilocks to make an appealing webcomic - you have to get the balance just right, but the balance is more important that how much you stuff on each side.

And I promise that next week, it'll be a real review of a real webcomic that won't become a review of any of the Big Three out of nowhere.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another reason the NFL may have forgone Dolphins-Jets on Sunday night?

The parade of New York columnists complaining about moving a cold-weather game to the nighttime in reference to Panthers-Giants.

That may have also killed Giants-Vikings (although that's in a dome) and even Cowboys-Eagles if arcane rules didn't do so.

We wish you a merry blog-day...

On this day two years ago, I made the very first post in the history of Da Blog. I remember it clearly. The post was written inside a bus stop shelter in cold conditions, and I shivered as I typed those first words about myself. I had a few ideas of where I was going to take Da Blog, but few of them were very clear in my head. Some jerk, probably coveting my laptop, kept needling me while I tried to work. I told myself that one day, I would be writing posts in nigh-luxourious conditions and would look back on that first, bus-stop-penned post, with laughter and chuckles.

I'm writing this post... well, the main reasons I'm not writing this in a bus stop shelter again are 1) the Storm of the Century hitting Seattle making it even worse than last time and downright treacherous for a laptop, 2) I'm writing this Sunday night after burning up my laptop battery on my last Flex Scheduling Watch of the year, and 3) as I've mentioned a few times, the public wi-fi I used two years ago has almost been abandoned.

But hey, no one's making me fearful for my safety, so that's progress!

Now, at the time, the main reason for the weird conditions was that I was on winter break. I was still living in the university dorms at the time during the regular class year. So the instant that I moved back to campus I was already writing in a hundred times more luxourious conditions than I was before (and on my desktop). But that February, I was basically kicked out of the dorms and sent home. Since then I have used various means to improvise to get any internet connection at all. I've stolen two different connections from neighbors. I made mad dashes of half a block to squeeze out a little bit of Internet time and back. I went to the library for a while. I've even taken advantage of an offer from my dad to use the Internet at the place where he works.

Since this summer, I've made at least a token effort to get a real job, and even gotten some initial interviews. But nothing has panned out, and because I haven't been able to get a real job I haven't been able to move elsewhere or get an Internet connection I don't need to steal. So it's been Improvization City for the better part of two years. No doubt the tanking economy (we wish you a merry recession-day!) has played a part in my lack of a job - certainly it would seem fatal when combined with my general lack of experience.

But there's also the fact that I've been treating Da Blog as more of a job... even though I still don't have the readers to justify it. Or any revenue streams besides advertising - but that's one more revenue stream than I had a year ago.

The past year has been one of finding my voice on Da Blog. Over the course of this year, I launched Sandsday, the Random Internet Discovery, started doing regular webcomic reviews, started forming my opinions on the state of politics today, started doing college football schedules and added pages on the web site for the college football rankings, and so, so much more. I think it's been at least June since I've failed to post on a weekday. Given that volume of postings, you may think it way overdue if you've noticed that the Blog Archive on the sidebar has switched to breaking down posts by week. It's easy to forget that a year ago, I was making twelve to twenty posts in an entire month. This is the 374th post I've posted in 2008, and already the 28th this month. I posted 155 times prior to 2008, which means I've well over doubled the output of my first year in my second.

(I was remiss in not marking my 500th post, in part because all my counts I get from Blogger include posts I've abandoned. Post #500, oddly, was this one announcing a move to CAPTCHA for all comments.)

With the move to a more regular posting schedule, and the addition of more quality content, people have started to notice. A year ago, I got excited at 25 visits in a single day. These days... well, there's still quite a few times when I get fewer than 25, but generally, especially on weekdays, at least 25 is the norm, and less than ten is a disappointment. From March through November, readership on Da Blog has increased every single month. This month is already over 1.5 times last December, and while it only has 682 visits so far through around 6 PM PT Sunday, it can still easily top last month's mark of 923 visits. The 1,000 frontier remains within reach. And last December, I was excited to get around 300 hits in a month, a mark I haven't fallen below since May. And some surprisingly heavy hitters have showed up. Okay, so when you're talking about webcomic names like David Morgan-Mar and Robert A. Howard commenting on (and linking to) Da Blog posts, you're talking maybe T-list "celebrities", but I'm a Z-lister at best, so anyone with their own site and any kind of following taking notice is going to leave me awestruck.

(My post with my predictions of SportsCenter's "Top 10 Games" proved to be surprisingly popular on searches, so look for me to potentially repeat it next year and in future years.)

Even with football season over, I've got still more plans for Da Blog, and for the web site. I'm going to be running a "mail call" feature to mark the first anniversary of Sandsday in about a month's time (I hope), so if you have any questions about the strip, leave a comment on this post, the open thread, or mwmailsea at yahoo dot com. Howard rightly pointed out that my webcomic posts have fallen into a rut of Ctrl+Alt+Del, Order of the Stick, and Irregular Webcomic! over and over again, and in something I had been planning on already, I'm going to aim to change that starting tomorrow. I still hope to complete at least my Democratic platform examination before the inauguration. As I vowed last year, I still plan to focus on my studies, but I'll only be taking two classes - although I still hope to add a job on top of that. And I still have a boatload of new projects I hope to have coming down the pike in the new year.

What of my advertising revenue, as much of a trickle as it may still be? I started adding advertising in August and I already have four dollars. Woo-hoo! But what do I do with it? As much as it sounds frivolous, given all my other problems, I'm going to start thinking of registering "" as a place to stow my various projects (including, potentially, Da Blog). And before my latest term with Freehostia runs out in August, I need to start thinking about potentially getting a new hosting provider to go along with the new domain. If I can afford it, I need to look for a hosting provider that provides the most bang for the buck, especially where PHP support and MySQL support is concerned. Ideally, I need more MySQL databases for the College Football Rankings and some new webcomic ideas I have percolating in my head. I also need to think about upgrading my SiteMeter account, pending what happens when they launch the new service for real - I need to start looking back more than just 100 visitors to see where they're coming from.

Year Two of Da Blog was a momentous one, for itself and for me. Let's see if Year Three takes us on just as exhilirating a ride - and if I end it posting in slightly better conditions than now.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008 Golden Bowl Tournament Quarterfinals

#9 USC v. #1 Oklahoma
The game turned out to be surprisingly boring... aside from the team that was winning.

It didn't look to be that way at first. Mark Sanchez's second pass attempt was picked off - but the Trojan defense forced its second straight three-and-out. The next time the Trojans got the ball, Joe McKnight broke off a 40-yard touchdown run. Then Oklahoma coughed up the ball on a fumble and USC went on another 53-yard drive for another touchdown, and the Sooner crowd was silent the rest of the way. Sanchez kept the scoring going with a long pass to Patrick Turner that he managed to take in for a score early in the second. Oklahoma went into the half without having tallied a single first down and down 28-0.

The Sooners finally picked up a first down midway through the third... only to see their next punt be taken to the house. The Sooners also got on the board with a 57-yard rushing touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, but by that point they were already down 35-7 and no one thought any sort of miracle comeback was anything near possible - a near 5-minute touchdown scoring drive taking up the rest of the third quarter, with the touchdown itself coming in the fourth, made sure of that. The stands were sparse for much of the second half and virtually empty for most of the fourth, as college football pundits and Sooner fans alike found themselves scratching their heads. Yes, Pete Carroll had undoubtedly motivated his squad with the indignity of having to play in the freezing snow of Salt Lake City in the first round when they all knew they had deserved a first-round home game. Most of the questions involved the Sooners: What had happened that left them vulnerable to freaking Troy, and then left them as little more than the butt for another set of Trojans to whoop, in a replay of the 2004 Orange Bowl? And how had Joe McKnight gone completely ignored in the Heisman conversation this season?
Final score: USC 55, Oklahoma 14

#7 Texas Tech v. #2 Florida
From the opening bell, it was clear this was not going to be Texas Tech's day. That became apparent when Jeffery Demps broke open a 51-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Florida went on to score later in the drive, then picked up a field goal on the next one. The Red Raiders proceeded to pick up their first first down, but then Graham Harrell threw one of his two picks and that resulted in a touchdown-scoring drive. Texas Tech finally picked up a touchdown on a drive that spanned into the second quarter, but the extra point was blocked, and a good kickoff return allowed Florida to drive to another field goal.

The Red Raiders defense finally stopped Florida from scoring with a three-and-out, only for Harrell to throw INT #2, this time returned all 48 yards for the touchdown by Joe Haden. Florida went into the half up 30-6 and the Red Raiders never scored again. Tim Tebow didn't look like a running quarterback - he ran 17 times for only 11 yards - but Demps and Chris Rainey picked up the slack, and while Tebow went only 5-8 passing, it was for 53 yards.
Final score: Texas Tech 6, Florida 40 (I'm assuming Florida keeps running with less than 2 minutes to play, picks up the first down, doesn't need to kick a field goal, and doesn't try to punch it in with goal to go)

#6 Cincinnati v. #3 Texas
In by far the greatest game of the Golden Bowl tournament so far, Cincinnati proved they deserved their seed that so many called unusually high. So impressive were they that Dominick Goodman, who caught 7 passes for 153 yards, was considered the player of the game.

Why was that impressive, besides that it was a wide receiver? Read on.

An early Texas drive that looked like the landslide many pundits had predicted was cut short when Colt McCoy, after driving his team to the Bearcat 30, threw the ball into the hands of Brandon Underwood. Tony Pike then went 4-for-4, every throw for a first down, culminating with Goodman making a running catch and winning a footrace for the endzone, a 30-yard play that served as a notice to the Longhorns. Cincinnati 7: Texas 0.

Although Texas went three-and-out, anyone who dismissed that drive as a fluke probably seemed vindicated when Pike threw an interception of his own, and after Texas went three-and-out again, promptly threw another interception on his very next play, this one taken back to the end zone by Earl Thomas for the game-tying score. After that, the Bearcats kept the ball on the ground, throwing the ball only three times on the ensuing drive on the way to a field goal to retake the lead. The Longhorns promptly struck back, as McCoy drove them 46 yards before Chris Ogbonnaya picked up a 24-yard touchdown run on a draw. Cincinnati doesn't pick up a first down for the rest of the half, and the Longhorns add a field goal of their own before the half. The pundits' halftime analysis: the Longhorns started slow, but they will now play much more like they played in the second quarter and will put the game away.

Not so fast.

Anyone thinking the Bearcats would go down that easy were shut up when John Goebel ticked off a 48-yard run all the way to the 2, setting up a subsequent touchdown run to re-tie the game. Cincinnati's next possession ended in a three-and-out and the ensuing punt gave the Longhorns good enough field position to re-take the lead, but Pike managed to lead the Bearcats to the endzone himself on the very next drive. The Bearcats were not going away, and they would stay in it all the way to the end.

After forcing Texas to punt, the Bearcats got the ball back on their own 17 for their first drive of the fourth quarter, and after two plays, picked up a first down when the Longhorns were flagged for encroachment - only to be set further back by a holding flag the next play. Thanks mostly to a second-down pass to Goodman, the Bearcats still picked up the first down, then crossed midfield on a 13-yard pass to Ben Guidugli. Another second-down pass picked up another first down before the Bearcats stalled, only gaining two yards on each of the first two downs before Isaiah Pead, on one of only two rushes of the day (both for losses), got nailed for a five-yard loss and forced a punt. On the clock, the quarter was already half over, and the score remained 24-24.

McCoy proceeded to break the hearts of the Bearcat faithful by running for 17 yards on second down to the Longhorn 35, then handed it off to Cody Johnson who broke open for a 64-yard run, just barely being stopped short of the end zone. After two incomplete passes and a run got stopped, Mack Brown decided to roll the dice by going for it on fourth down. Had it failed, it could have ended up endlessly questioned - but it worked, and the Longhorns retook the lead. But before the Bearcat faithful could beat themselves up for very long, Pike threw a screen to Goodman, who proceeded to make a Heisman-like dash for 65 yards down to the 12, and Jacob Ramsey punched it in the rest of the distance. Cincinnati 31, Texas 31, 4:28 to play. Texas returns the kickoff to their own 30. Play sequence: Incomplete, 1-yard pass, incomplete, punt. Cincinnati gets the ball back on their own 38, 3:33 to play, chance to win the game and shock the nation by shutting the Big 12 out of the semifinals.

First play: Interception.

After an illegal motion flag against Texas, Ogbonnaya promptly breaks open a 46-yard run down to the 10. Two Foswhitt Whitaker runs later, McCoy hits Quan Cosby in the endzone. Cincinnati 31, Texas 38, 1:47 to play, Tony Pike - after a fantastic game - needing to redeem himself and not become the scapegoat.

Cincinnati gets the ball back on the 23. First play very familiar: Pike to Goodman, out of bounds, gain of 8, second down Ramsey gets a four-yard run for the first down. Bearcats call timeout, 1:32 remaining. Goebel runs east-and-west and manages to pick up a yard before going out of bounds. Pike throws... batted down. Pike completes it this time to Marcus Barnett, but he gets nailed immediately... can't go out of bounds. Clock stops for the measurement and first down, but they have to get back to the line. Clock ticks down to 55 seconds. They run a draw to Ramsey... ends up out of bounds for another 1-yard gain. 51 seconds. Pike throws to the sideline to Charley Howard. Out of bounds, six-yard gain, 45 seconds left, they're in Longhorn territory now. Third and 3. Pike throws it downfield to Barnett... just out of his reach. Fourth down, three to go. 38 seconds. This time the first down is most important. Pike pitches it right into the hands of Goebel.

Two yards.

Texas avoids an unmitigated disaster for the Big 12 and becomes the only Big 12 team still playing for a national championship. Cincinnati will have to settle for a trip to the Orange Bowl at least a week too early. Tony Pike and Brian Kelly will have that interception and final drive replaying in their nightmares for years. Bearcats fans are merely left to shake their heads and wonder what might have been. Dominick Goodman, though, gains a new level of respect around the country from people who might not have been paying attention to the Big East.
Final score: Cincinnati 31, Texas 38

#5 Penn State v. #4 Alabama
No sooner did the Cincinnati Bearcats get done scaring the Texas Longhorns than two of college football's most storied teams managed to top it, in a game that proved to be surprisingly high-scoring.

Daryll Clark threw for three first downs on Penn State's second drive of the game, and with the ball on the 25, Evan Royster - on his way to an amazing two-hundred-yard day - picked up a fourth on a 16-yard run, then proceeded to pound ahead another eight for the touchdown, the first sign that Alabama's defense wasn't in proper working order. Though Alabama had picked up the first first down of the game, the first sign that Penn State's defense wasn't working either might have been dismissed as a fluke: Glen Coffee pounding through it for 51 yards on Alabama's second play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, only getting stopped at the three, setting up Roy Upchurch for the equalizer.

After three more runs by Royster put the Nittany Lions in Alabama territory, the Tide defense seemed to bear down and get the stop, helped in no small part by a delay of game penalty, and a long punt return to the Lion 29 set up an 18-yard run by Mark Ingram and an 11-yard touchdown by Coffee, and Alabama took the lead heading into the second quarter.

Both defenses traded stops, though both teams penetrated their opponent's territory, but then the Nittany Lions suggested that the Tide defense still wasn't quite working the way it should have. Clark was the star of this drive, with three decent-sized completions early before, on 2nd and 11 from the 21, handing the ball off to Royster on a draw and setting up the Lions on the 2. Derrick Williams pounded it in from there to re-tie the game. Alabama struck back, with the help of another big run by Coffee and a slightly shorter one from Upchurch. The drive stalled after a false-start flag, but Kevin Kelly still made a 47-yard field goal - his only attempt of the game - to retake the lead. Penn State went three-and-out, a Tide first down was rendered moot by holding on the next play, and Penn State got the ball back with 17 seconds left and couldn't do anything before the half. The pundits' consensus: If the Tide's defense could get more consistent they can put away the Nittany Lions during the second half and turn what's been a close game so far into a laugher, because the Lions can't stop Glen Coffee.

But the Tide's defense doesn't get more consistent. Instead the Nittany Lions, namely Royster, have a fantastic third quarter. After a three-and-out, they get help from the special teams with a punt return into Tide territory, and Royster tags on a 30-yard touchdown run. Penn State's next drive is a three-and-out but the punt pins the Tide inside the 20, but Upchurch renders that irrelevant by leaving the defense in his wake for an 87-yard touchdown run - the only Alabama drive of the quarter that isn't a three-and-out. Royster immediately takes the challenge and takes it 79 yards for a touchdown of his own on Penn State's first play from scrimmage. The next time Penn State gets the ball, Clark takes over and leads the team on a five-minute drive that only gets stopped on fourth and goal from the 4. Penn State 31, Alabama 24.

The Tide's defense buckles down in the fourth quarter, as both teams trade three-and-outs, and although Penn State does eventually pick up a first down, the defense sets up the Tide with what would seem to be a perfect opportunity to tie the game when Tyrone King picks off Clark and takes it to the 11. But the Nittany Lion defense is ready: after Coffee picks up six yards on a draw, they hold Upchurch to only one. On third and 3 from the 4, John Parker Wilson attempts to pass but finds no one open and ends up scrambling for a yard. Now it's fourth and 2 from the 3, and Alabama needs the touchdown. Nick Saban calls a draw play to Coffee.

Stuffed after a yard.

One of the most memorable stops in the history of Penn State's storied defense - if it holds. Penn State gets the ball back with 2:52 to play but on their own 2 - seemingly, with a lot of field to cover, a good chance to burn the remaining clock. A pitch to Stephfon Green gets two, then Clark - in a call that threatens to be questioned forever - throws an incompletion. Stopping the clock and gaining nothing. Finally Joe Paterno and Clark realize this situation calls for giving it to Royster (already at 200 yards) early and often, but on third and eight, a draw play only picks up one yard.

Alabama gets another chance, 1:38 to play with, and a full complement of timeouts - and the ball on the Penn State 30. The first call may seem somewhat questionable - running the ball, not with Coffee or Upchurch, but with Mark Ingram, and straight ahead instead of towards the sideline - getting only a yard and burning a timeout. Coffee gets the ball on second down and gets out of bounds after five yards. Another questionable run call, this time to Demetrius Goode, gets stuffed at the line, but this time Alabama converts on fourth down when Wilson finds Julio Jones, who strides out of bounds at the 13 with 1:02 to play. It's the first first down Alabama has gotten since their first play of the quarter. Nittany Lions fans fear the worst - what if Saban elects to go for two?

The Lion defense quickly buckles down, and a forward flip to Marquis Maze gets nailed instantly for a two-yard loss, burning another timeout. 57 seconds left. Wilson tosses it again, this time to Travis McCall, who gets stopped at the line of scrimmage and doesn't get out of bounds. Clock continues to run... 50... 49... 48... 47... Finally, at 35 seconds, the Tide takes the third-down snap. Wilson once again aims for McCall, but this time overthrows him. Clock stops with 31 seconds left. No more dilly-dallying: the Tide have to make fourth and 12.

Wilson takes the snap and steps back. Looks for an open receiver, in the end zone or even just short of it as long as it's past the three-yard line or near enough. Looking... looking... he breaks out of the pocket and attempts to elude the rush. Looking... looking...

And steps out of bounds right at the line of scrimmage.

Penn State escapes with the victory despite a couple of close scares. Evan Royster is the breakout star, but despite allowing 24 points, mostly by not being able to stop Glen Coffee for the first half, the defense is the star of the game in a contest Nittany Lions fans will tell their children and grandchildren about, especially if Penn State can go on to win the championship. Nick Saban is questioned for most of the post-game press conference about some questionable calls, especially on the final drive, but truth be told, he was out of tricks after nothing else he had tried had gotten past Joe Paterno's defense for the second half.
Final score: Penn State 31, Alabama 24

Semifinal Matchups:

Rose Bowl: #9 USC v. #5 Penn State
Okay, so Alabama-Penn State wasn't the defensive battle I advertised, but USC-Penn State could be. But with Joe McKnight playing at a Heisman-caliber level, Penn State might have trouble with him for more than a half. Because this is the real Rose Bowl, I won't be simulating it.

Sugar Bowl: #3 Texas v. #2 Florida
Some may call this the real national championship game. There are some similarities with the real real national championship game. This one might be a battle of the last two Heisman winners, and it pits two able offenses against each other, but while the Big 12 team's is most impressive, Florida boasts a fantastic defense, and we'll see if Tim Tebow can make the difference in this one. This simulation will be announced after the new year.

Non-semifinal BCS bowls:
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma v. Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas Tech v. Cincinnati

Running Playoff and SNF Week 17 Watch

I lost the first version of this post. This is a quick update. Will update this post as the day progresses. Maybe.
-Colts and Ravens improved their standing, but a Colts loss next week could still bring them down to a tiebreaker. Tiebreak checks later. Dolphins and Pats both win, Jets playing Seahawks.
-Chargers took care of their half. Can the Bills beat the Broncos?
-Titans lock up the 1 seed, Steelers the 2.
-Falcons-Vikings, Eagles-Redskins on now. Bucs and Cowboys both lost, so the Redskins aren't out yet.
-If an NFC game can be selected, don't expect an announcement on FNIA like last year.

Broncos leading Bills, but barely. Seahawks up by a touchdown over Jets. Redskins up on Vikings but Falcons up on Vikings, which would eliminate the 'Skins.

AFC East Tiebreakers: If Jets beat Miami next week they hold tiebreaker over Pats who hold tiebreak over Dolphins, assuming all three are tied with each other (a possibility with the Jets losing), otherwise all three are 1-1 against each of the other two. If the Dolphins and Pats win next week the division records will all be 4-2, if the Jets win they will hold the division tiebreaker, if the Pats lose and the Dolphins win the Pats lose the division tiebreaker.

Right now the following scenarios are possible: If the Jets lose today:
-Jets win, Patriots lose. Three-way tie goes to Jets for division. Pats and Dolphins go to common games. More on that later.
-Jets win, Patriots win. Pats win division outright. Jets win tiebreak over Dolphins.
-Dolphins win, Patriots win. Pats and Dolphins go to common games for division. Jets to 7 losses and probably out of playoffs.
-Dolphins win, Patriots lose. Dolphins win division outright. Pats first choice of NFC East for wild card spot with six losses. Jets to 7 losses and probably out of playoffs.
The Seahawks appear to be wrapping up the game.

Pats-Dolphins common games: Pats 7-1, Dolphins 7-1 outside division. Dolphins would hold conference tiebreaker.

If Colts lose next week, Ravens, Dolphins, Pats win, Colts-Ravens-Pats three-way, one team must be eliminated to determine wild card. Indy beat both teams so they win the head-to-head sweep and are in the playoffs. No Titans-Colts next week on SNF. Ravens would hold the conference games tiebreak over Patriots, but are still vulnerable to a loss next week.

Seattle beats the Jets. Buffalo leading Denver by a touchdown. Washington leading by a touchdown but Atlanta running away with it over the Vikings.

If Pats lose next week Dolphins-Jets is for division. If current score holds Chargers-Broncos will also be for division. If NFC game can't be selected it will be one of those two. My pick is Dolphins-Jets, because of the Favre factor and because they're better teams.

Vikings are in big trouble unless the Packers win Monday night. Bucs can't win division but the dream is still alive for the Falcons to continue the last-one-year-first-the-next trend. Assuming the Falcons go on to win, the Redskins are out and they will have been in the process of eliminating the Eagles as well, and a Packers win would eliminate the Bears entirely.

Falcons may be clinching themselves a playoff spot, in all practicality. The schedule breaks down such that I think they are cinching up the common games tiebreaker over the Bucs. Even if Dallas wins next week, which would mean they would likely have a conference games tiebreaker, the Falcons would be in by virtue of that tiebreaker - assuming the Bears lose.

If current scores hold, not even Cowboys-Eagles may look as attractive as NBC would like, if the Eagles are already out of the playoffs, and if the Bears lose I think that would lock up a playoff spot for the Cowboys, a risk NBC can't take if they have to make their pick before MNF. Giants-Vikings has the same pitfall, and if current scores hold the Vikings will have lost and won't have a bye to play for.

Buffalo knocks off Denver, but it's the other two games I'm watching for SNF/NFC purposes.

Atlanta knocks off Minnesota. That essentially locks up a playoff spot for them and puts the Bucs in big trouble, and it eliminates the Redskins. The Eagles MIGHT still be alive for a playoff spot, as they would still be only a half game behind the Cowboys and Bucs. Beat the Boys and hope for a Bucs loss, and the Eagles are in the playoffs.

Philly making one last push - if they win this it would actually be worse for Cowboys-Eagles as the Eagles would be playing for nothing. They fail. But if the Bears win two straight it could render Cowboys-Eagles irrelevant by the end of the day. Two Bears wins put them at 10-6, and the best the Eagles could hope for is 9-6-1. We could see a Bears-Falcons-Cowboys three-way tie, though, and Cowboys would win the conference tiebreaker for the first spot.

Honestly, the Favre factor means Dolphins-Jets could be selected even if the NFL can select an NFC game. Especially if the Bears win on Monday Night and create the possibility that the Eagles won't have anything to play for by Sunday night. With six losses, the Jets will still have something to play for even if the Patriots win next week. The Ravens could lose, and the Jets would have the conference games tiebreaker. Or the Ravens could win, and the Jets really would have nothing to play for. Giants-Vikings is probably out with the Vikings having no chance to steal the 2 seed, meaning the Giants will have nothing to play for no matter what happens tonight, and the Vikings will have nothing to play for if the Packers win Monday night.

Final prediction: Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets, but I would be far from surprised to see Cowboys-Eagles selected.

Actual selection: Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers. Huh? Either NBC and the NFL really don't want to put the Dolphins on or they're really scared about the game being rendered irrelevant for at least one team by game time. If the latter, we still don't know if NBC could have selected an NFC game.