Author Archive

BYU Basketball

BYU Basketball: Not Just Jimmer

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

If you listen to The PB&J Report podcast (and at this point, why aren’t you?), then you know I have a method of sorts when it comes to BYU sports — I am the eternal pessimist.

Don’t get me wrong, no one bleeds blood as Cougar blue as mine. But just because I love the team doesn’t mean I blindly believe they will win every game — that would just make me ignorant (or a Ute fan). Experience is knowledge, and I’ve experienced too many overtime losses, tournament no-shows and blown calls to believe in the Cougars as hard as I pull for them.

So when I picked San Diego State to beat our men’s basketball team at home last night, much of it was the eternal pessimism speaking. But more than that, I really didn’t think we had the team to beat them. San Diego State has size, athleticism, and is defensively minded. While I thought we had a great player in Jimmer Fredette, I also felt our team was too flawed to really compete with talent of that caliber. BYU is small, has trouble rebounding, and has absolutely no depth — or so I thought. In other words, I thought we had a great player, not a great team.

Jimmer Kawhi

Podcast: BYU-SDSU Preview, Super Bowl

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

For college basketball fans (and, particularly, BYU fans), it’s the Game Of The Year — nay, The Game Of The Century — and the PB&J Report boys are here to break down the impending BYU-San Diego State slugfest from every possible angle. Listen as the crew analyzes both teams’ strengths and weaknesses and makes their (extremely educated) picks for the big game. Also, they throw in a few thoughts on Sunday’s NFL playoff games and next week’s Super Bowl to boot. Now, who doesn’t want some of that? Enjoy!

What We Learned From Saturday's NFL Games

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

“Yo, I got this”

Historically the first two weekends of the NFL playoffs are two of my favorite weekends of the year (topped by wild card Saturday — is there a reason this isn’t a national holiday yet?). This year didn’t break that trend as last weekend saw the Jets, Seahawks, Packers and Ravens all win, arguably all upsets except maybe the Ravens. Part of what makes the NFL so exciting is the parity, and at no time is this more apparent than during the playoffs.

In a season that has been all about parity (even the Patriots, the league’s undisputed best team, got beat by the lowly Browns) most experts came into this week’s games with no clue as to what was going to happen. The Ravens and Steelers were meeting for the third time this season and the wild card Packers seemed to be suddenly gaining popularity against the number one-seeded Falcons. At the beginning of the day, NFL fans had lots of questions — and by the end of the day, we had answers. Here’s the top things we learned from today’s games:

The ghost of Matt Millen still haunts the GMs of the NFL

It’s astounding to me that NFL GMs have yet to figure out the wide receiver position. The Ravens came into the season with three top receivers — check that, three former top wide receivers. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and T.J Houshmandzadeh were all number one receivers at some point in their careers — Mason with the Titans, Boldin with the Cardinals, and T.J. (no way I’m typing that name again) with the Bengals and later the Seahawks. All three were the top receivers on their teams, but for various reasons their former teams cut ties with them and they all landed in Baltimore.

When teams decide to go their separate ways with a wider receiver, it has historically been a bad sign. These same situations seem to happen every year, and yet GMs continue to throw money at these players. Look at Roy Williams in Dallas, Randy Moss in Minnesota or Terrell Owens on every team he’s ever been on (which at this points seems to be approximately half the teams in the NFL).

Today in their game against the Steelers, the Ravens’ receiving core repeatedly dropped passes, costing them scoring opportunities. This was typified by the Ravens’ last offensive play when, trying to drive and tie the game, Joe Flacco threw an almost perfect pass on 4th and 19 to Houshmandzadeh, who had run a deep curl route. Houshmandzadeh was past the first down line when the ball hit him right in the numbers, and then promptly fell through his hands and hit the ground.

Maybe now Ravens’ GM Ozzie Newsome can see why Seattle (who, by the way, isn’t exactly fielding the ’01 Rams receiving core out there) chose to cut him, knowing they would still have to pay him $7 million, rather then have him on their team. Think about that — they paid him 7 million dollars to go away. Sound like a guy you want on your team? Apparently Ozzie Newsome thought it sounded awesome, and for that reason he’ll be watching the AFC championship game on his couch.

Ben Roethlisberger is always a threat to score

Look, I know Big Ben has had his off-field issues — a motorcycle crash, repeated drunkenness, an appearance on Shaq Vs. and the fact that he’s a complete pervert have all greatly hurt his public image. In all that, we may have lost the fact the guy has won two Super Bowls, and is one of the most clutch quarterbacks we’ve seen — maybe ever.

The guy just wins. He’s got that last-minute greatness DNA that Peyton would kill the third Manning brother for. Today, with the game tied and just over two minutes remaining, the Steelers were looking at 3rd and 19 and, if they failed to convert, they would be giving the ball back to the Ravens with enough time remaining to put together a drive and win the game with a field goal.

In this situation most quarterbacks are looking for that pass that just gets them the first down, because the defense is trying to prevent a 20-yard play. Oftentimes quarterbacks will check down to someone on a short route, hoping they can break some tackles and fight for a first down. Not Big Ben. He set himself up in the shotgun, received the ball, took five steps back, calmly looked at his options, and then flung the ball 55 yards down the right sideline. The ball was perfectly on target to a streaking Antonio Brown who caught the ball and stepped out of bounds setting the Steelers up close to the goal for a game-winning touchdown.

If you go back and watch that play again, Roethlisberger throws the ball long before Brown is past the defense — in fact, to anyone else watching it doesn’t even seem clear that Brown will be open. The fact that Roethlisberger was able to anticipate where his receiver would be in that situation, and then throw the ball with such precision 55 yards downfield, is absolutely incredible.

If you haven’t seen the play again, go back and watch it from all the angles. In that situation, I’m not sure there’s another quarterback who makes that throw. The fact is, despite his obvious character flaws, Roethlisberger is a born winner — and if I was a coach I would want him on my team.

Aaron Rodgers has made Green Bay forget about the quarterbacks from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s — or, in other words, Brett Favre

I’ve been on the Aaron Rodgers bandwagon for awhile. I had him on my fantasy team last year and was really impressed by the numbers he put up week in and week out. This year I’ve been impressed with his toughness, fighting back from two concussions.

What he did against the Falcons tonight was an absolute clinic. He diced up their secondary with amazing precision, he escaped their rushers with surprising speed and agility, and he led the Packers with all the intangibles you want to see from your starting quarterback. His mechanics, accuracy, arm strength, mobility, reads, leadership and guts were all of the highest caliber.

Let’s put it this way: Of all the NFL games I’ve seen this year, if I had to pick one game to show a young quarterback to say, “This is the way you play the position,” I think it would be this game against the Falcons.

In his post-season career, Rodgers now has a 10:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He beat the Eagles (many experts’ pick to win the NFC) on the road last week, and he beat the number one-seeded Falcons this week. After what we’ve seen the last two seasons and (in particular) this post-season, I think it’s time we officially move him into the “Top Three QBs In The League” discussion. Considering the truly lackluster efforts of Manning, Brees and Vick this post-season, can we say Aaron Rodgers might be the best quarterback not named Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger? Right now, if I had one game to win, I would pick Brady, then Rothelisberger, but after that I’m pretty sure I would take Aaron Rodgers. He’s that good, and a seemingly decent guy to boot.

Rodgers spent three years patiently waiting in the wings for Brett Favre to take his texting talents elsewhere, and then the next three years flying under the radar in Green Bay. Hey Aaron, you’re on everyone’s radar now — pretty soon you may even have Rachel Nichols camping out on your lawn.

Jimmer Fredette

SPORTS: Podcast: Jimmer Goes Off, Auburn Wins It All and the NFL Playoffs Heat Up

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

It’s that time of year again — the best time of year. College football is finishing strong, the NFL playoffs are heating up and basketball season is really starting to get interesting. Sports fans will think back on these times and salivate in July when all they have to watch is baseball, baseball and more baseball. As such, the PB&J Report crew gather to discuss the latest developments, including Jimmer Fredette’s 47-point explosion against Utah, Auburn’s national championship squeaker and the upcoming weekend slate of NFL games. Enjoy!

You can stream the podcast by simply clicking on the link below, or you can download it to your computer by right-clicking the link and selecting “Save Link As” from the menu.

Listen to: Rhombus Podcast 034 — The PB&J Report (2011.01.11)

kingthe-kings-speech-high-res

Review: The King’s Speech

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Film

Every few years a film comes along, inspired by real events, that makes me ask the question, “Why don’t I already know this?” Sometimes a real life story can be so unusual, so inspiring, so unexpected that it seems as if it should be common knowledge. This year seems to be a particularly strong year for films based on true events. The Social Network, The Fighter and 127 Hours are all films vying for Hollywood’s biggest awards. This Christmas weekend the film festival hit The King’s Speech went into wide release, hoping to add its name to the aforementioned films.

The plot of The King’s Speech is fairly straightforward. The Duke of York (played by Colin Firth), or “Bertie” as he is called by his family, is second in line to the British throne. However, he has a speech impediment, a stammer, that prevents him from speaking in public and has made him an object of public mockery. He has given up hope he will ever overcome the impediment, having seen the best speech therapists in Britain. Of course, this shouldn’t cause a problem as Bertie is never expected to take the throne and his public engagements are limited.

Sherlock

TV: Review: Sherlock

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in TV

Confession: I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. When I was 8 years old, I found an old copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes that belonged to my father, and I spent the next few weeks plowing through it, reading every one of Conan Doyle’s original stories. These stories still hold a special place for me, and are a huge part of why I decided to study literature.

So naturally I am always interested when a new film or television adaptation of the Holmes character comes around. From the old Basil Rathbone films to the Jeremy Brett TV series to the recent Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. reimagining, I’ve seen and enjoyed dozens of adaptations over the years. When I was in London recently, I began to hear about a new Sherlock Holmes series (simply titled Sherlock) being produced by the BBC that had received rave reviews. My interest was piqued, and upon returning to the States I looked around for how I could see the series. I discovered the show had aired in the U.S. on PBS as part of their masterpiece series, and was available to view online for free through December 27th. I promptly went and watched the entire series and was really surprised by what I saw.

The twist in the story is that Sherlock removes the Holmes story from the Victorian Era and places it in modern day London. The modern day element feels completely natural, and at no point does it seem like they are being modern for the sake of being modern. Much like in the original stories, Sherlock uses whatever tools he has available to him, whether it be text messaging, modern-day forensics or Google.

While Holmes purists may hate the change of time, the fact is the Sherlock Holmes stories were never about the Victorian Era — they were about the characters. By removing Holmes and Watson from the traditional Victorian setting, the show separates itself from more recent adaptations that focused too heavily on the Victorian elements. This allows the show to place a real focus on the characters, giving them the chance to develop over the course of the series.

The acting in Sherlock is top notch. Benedict Cumberbatch (whose previous credits include the Oscar-nominated film Atonement) plays the title character, in what may be the best incarnation of Sherlock Holmes I’ve ever seen. Cumberbatch plays Holmes as a self-described “higher-functioning sociopath,” who’s intellect (and ego) is truly worthy of the Holmes of the literary canon. Watching him on-screen, you really feel like he is that smart — 30 minutes into the first episode, I realized I was just expecting Holmes to always be a step ahead of me.

Cumberbatch’s  performance emphasizes the more anti-social elements of the Holmes character, but not in the way the recent Robert Downey Jr. incarnation did. Downey’s character had an undeniable charisma, and came off as though he was choosing to be anti-social at times. In many way’s Downey’s Holmes was just an extension of Robert Downey Jr. real personality. On the other hand, Cumberbatch’s character does not choose to be anti-social — he simply does not know how to have human interaction. He is the way he is, and in this he becomes much more believable and relatable. He is not larger then life, just smarter than the rest of us.

Martin Freeman plays Dr. John Watson. Freeman has previously appeared with minor roles in a slew of films, including Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Love Actually. Freeman gives the Watson character a new level of depth as a man trying to deal with post-military life. In Sherlock, Watson isn’t the unintelligent, blundering follower of other incarnations. Instead, he is shown to be a very capable and intelligent (albeit not as intelligent as Holmes) man.

Throughout the series Holmes’ trust in Watson grows and he begins to assign him important and meaningful tasks. Watson does not just tag along, but becomes a proactive player in the stories. Freeman and Cumberbatch have an undeniable chemistry, and their relationship grows and develops naturally over the course of the series. In short, Cumberbatch and Freeman deliver what is the most nuanced portrayal of the Holmes and Watson relationship that I have ever come across.

The writing is another area where the show really stands out, the dialogue is clever and demonstrates a wit rarely seen in American television. By setting the show in the modern environment and combining it with excellent writing, Sherlock feels more exciting than previous adaptations — the show moves quickly from scene to scene with fast-paced dialogue and plots. The series consists of three, 90-minute episodes, all of which are wildly entertaining. At the end of each 90 minutes, I found myself wanting more.

The short of it is, if you like Sherlock Holmes, go check out Sherlock. If you just like good TV, go check out Sherlock. The show may not be available for free online viewing anymore, but it’s certainly worth a few of your hard-earned dollars on Amazon or iTunes.

BYU guard Jimmer Fredette drives against a Vermont defender in Glens Falls, N.Y.

SPORTS: Podcast: Year-End Wrap-Up, BYU Football Bowl Preview

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

And so it ends. Ben Wagner is back from England — just in time for Jake Welch and Preston Johnson to fill him in on all the sports action he missed in the last PB&J Report of the year. The guys talk about BYU football’s disappointing season (including a preview of this Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl match-up with UTEP), BYU basketball’s promising start, the NBA, MLB and just about every significant sporting event of the last four months. If you were in a coma (or out of the country) for this fall’s whirlwind sports season, this week’s episode should get you pretty much caught up in time for the start of 2011. Enjoy!

You can stream the podcast by simply clicking on the link below, or you can download it to your computer by right-clicking the link and selecting “Save Link As” from the menu.

Listen to: Rhombus Podcast 032 — The PB&J Report (2010.12.17)

FIFA's Big Blatter

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Uncategorized

Over the past few weeks, England has been torn apart and sharply divided by political unrest. Prime Minister David Cameron’s aggressively conservative budget cuts and attempts to reduce the country’s deficit have led to thousands of students protesting (sometimes violently) throughout the streets of London. However, this past Thursday, the country stopped its political infighting to unite against a common enemy, one more dreadful to the English then even the prospect of tax hikes — Sepp Blatter.

For those of you who don’t know, Sepp Blatter is the president of FIFA, the international governing body of soccer and the organization responsible for hosting the world’s premier sporting event, the World Cup. This week, the organization voted on which countries would have the privilege of hosting the 2018 and 2022 cups. England sent a delegation to lobby for the 2018 cup that included Prince William and David Beckham. The Unites States sent a similar delegation to fight for the right to host the 2022 cup, a delegation that included Morgan Freeman and former president Bill Clinton. Both England and the Unites States were the favorites to win their respective bids. Then the news hit Thursday that neither country had been successful — and that Russia had won the 2018 bid and some place called Qatar had won the 2022 bid.

Even before the vote and announcement, allegations of vote fixing began to arise. The politics of how FIFA chooses these event locations is messy at best. FIFA’s 24-man executive committee votes on the proposed sites in a multi-round format. However, allegations of committee members selling their votes caused FIFA to suspend two members of the committee, leaving only 22. During each round of voting, the country with the lowest amount of votes is eliminated until one country holds a majority. Russia won a majority in the first round of voting and was immediately selected. It took 4 rounds for Qatar to win the bid, and it beat out the Unites States in the fourth round of voting 14-8.

Whether or not the vote was fixed is up for debate — and with Vladimir Putin involved anything is possible. What is clear, though, is that there are serious flaws in this election system. FIFA is an organization compromised of over 208 countries, yet only 22 have a voice in selecting the site for the World Cup. Not only is this an unfair system, but it makes it far too easy for vote-fixing to occur, as only a few committee members need to be bought off before a majority is held. Furthermore, Blatter’s personal preference appears to hold too much sway over the committee, as it was common knowledge before the voting that he supported Russia and Qatar’s bid. FIFA needs to review its selection process and work out a system that is fair and less susceptible to fraud.

But the choices have been made and now the world has to deal with them. In some ways, Russia is not an illogical choice to host the cup. England will always love soccer, whether or not it hosts the World Cup. However, Russia hosting the cup will boost the soccer infrastructure in the country by creating new facilities and stadiums. It will help FIFA tap into the country’s vast talent pool and will help establish FIFA as a media entity. Politically, the move shows confidence in the former Soviet Union, and this cup will mark the first time the World Cup will be hosted by an Eastern European country.

However, having the cup in Qatar is, in short, a big mistake. The country has a population of just over 1.6 million people, no soccer stadiums big enough to host a World Cup game, and in late June (the time of year the cup normally starts) boasts an average temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The country does not at the moment have enough hotel space, any public forms of transportation, or an airport big enough to support the huge influx of foreign visitors that will invade the country during the month long tournament.

Furthermore, concerns have arisen as to what the effect of having 400,000 drunken foreign visitors will be to a country that is still a relatively closed-off Islamic nation. Politically, the move may make sense — the entire Arab world (and all of its oil money) was behind the bid to host the cup in Qatar — as it will mark the first time an Arab nation will host a World Cup. In the long term, Blatter is hoping the 2022 cup will open up further opportunities for FIFA in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, the Unites States should not have been forgotten in the equation. There are over 300 million people in the Unites States, most of which is still an untapped soccer market. The sport’s popularity is growing by leaps and bounds, MLS attendance and TV ratings continue to rise, and the U.S. national team continues to be successful in trying to establish itself as one of the elite national teams. The country’s premier sports leagues, the NBA and NFL, are both set to go into lockouts and there will be a huge opportunity for soccer to fill the void they leave. By having the Unites States host the cup, FIFA would boost enthusiasm and investment in soccer in America.

FIFA passed on a real opportunity to give the Unites States Soccer Federation the final weapon it needed in its attempt to cement soccer as a premier sport in America. Blatter and his cronies decided to take a huge risk with Qatar, instead of what was a sure return on investment in America. In 2022, the future of international soccer will still be in the United States — unfortunately, the soccer world will be melting in the hot sun of Qatar, still trying to find a hotel room.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (Spoiler-Heavy)

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Film

Déjà vu. It seems like we’ve done this before.

The years of anticipation, the long queues for tickets, drooling over the latest trailer, gossiping about Emma Watson’s new haircut, the promise that this one is, indeed, the most “epic” of them all — and finally the eventual disappointment that it just wasn’t as good as the book.

Oh yeah, that’s not déjà vu. We really have already done this six times over the past decade.

Friday marked the release of the latest of the Harry Potter films, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. (By the way, I feel like there had to have been a better way to differentiate between the two instead of part one and part two. Like chapter 1 and chapter 2 perhaps? This was a book after all.) After seeing it I find myself with a familiar set of mixed emotions.

Being a longtime fan of the Harry Potter series, I of course relish seeing characters I love so deeply being brought to life on the screen. This is, however, a double-edged sword. When the movie departs from the stories and characters that I love, I only find myself asking in disappointment, “Was there really no other way?”

SPORTS: Podcast: BYU Football's Independence Day

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

When trouble strikes, The PB&J Report is there. The crew gets together to discuss the day’s big news — BYU’s possible move to independent status in football — and whatever else happens to trickle in along the way. Enjoy!

You can stream the podcast by simply clicking on the link below, or you can download it to your computer by right-clicking the link and selecting “Save Link As” from the menu.

Listen to: Rhombus Podcast 021 — The PB&J Report (2010.08.19)