Author Archives: Brandon

the best laid plans…

Tomorrow is the Mercedes Marathon. For the second time, I will be running the full marathon (I have run either the half or the full every year since 2012). The first time, if you may recall, did not go as planned. This time, I have approached the race a little differently. I am going with a modified run-walk plan, where I will break the running into roughly five-mile blocks, with 1/4-mile walk breaks. In this, I hope to avoid the dreaded leg cramps that seem to plague me during long races.

I was going into the race hoping that if conditions were favorable, I could come in somewhere around 3:55 or so. Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t seem like it’s going to cooperate. It’s currently unseasonably warm (the high today was over 70 degrees), and tomorrow it’s supposed to rain almost all day, including during the time of the race, while remaining roughly the same temperature. Needless to say, this isn’t optimal for running a marathon.  So I’ve had to check my expectations a little bit.

Given this, here’s my goal list for the race, in order of easiest to most difficult to accomplish:

  1. Finish; have fun; don’t get hurt. This is always my first goal, but it’s even more appropriate for the marathon. The last time I did this, I was so disappointed by the result that I didn’t even think about doing another one until now. I’m hoping for this to be a much better experience.
  2. PR. My personal record for the race, of course, would be my first marathon’s finish time. I don’t remember it down to the second, but I know that it was 4 hours, 23 minutes, and change. So anything under 4:23 is a PR in my book.
  3. Sub-4:10. Even with the higher temperatures and rain, I think that this is certainly doable, provided I don’t cramp too early in the race. Speaking of which…
  4. Run 25+ miles. An optimal race would be four blocks of five miles, four quarter-mile walks, and the fifth block being mile 21 to the finish. That would put me over 25 miles, and assuming a reasonable pace, within striking distance of my A goal…
  5. Sub-4:00. Yes, I’m still holding out hope. If we don’t get pouring rain, and maybe the wind’s not too bad, and it doesn’t get up to 70 but more like 65 instead, I might just be able to sneak in under four hours. That’s asking an awful lot, though.

We’ll see how it all turns out tomorrow! In the meantime, I’m off to try to get some sleep!

National Championship guess

Once more into the breach.

Clemson comes off of the most eye-opening win of the year: a 31-0 demolition of Ohio State that could have been worse. Clemson absolutely throttled the Buckeye offense, and Watson & co. did their usual thing.

Meanwhile, Alabama looked vulnerable on offense against Washington. Despite a 24-7 win, the defense accounted for one of the touchdowns, and the offense couldn’t take advantage of several short fields. Some of that had to do with the Huskies’ defense; some of it had to do with Lane Kiffin’s seeming inability to multitask. Now everyone’s worried that Jalen Hurts can’t throw and Alabama is limited to a playbook consisting of “give it to Bo Scarborough and hope”.

The win against Ohio State was very good, but let’s not go overboard. This is the same Clemson team that lost to Pittsburgh at home and came within a 33-yard kick of losing to NC State at home as well. Those two games were played after wins in which the aggregate score was Clemson 110, opponents 10 – in other words, supposedly when they were flying high. Clemson didn’t become invincible all of a sudden.  No disrespect to either of these teams, but If the Tigers play on Monday night at the level they did against either Pitt or NC State, Alabama will win the title by three scores.

That being said, if Alabama plays on offense the way that they did against Washington, they might need the defense to score more than once to have a chance. Clemson will dare Alabama to throw the ball, especially downfield. Despite Tide fans’ fond memories of deep shots to Ridley, Stewart, and heck, even OJ Howard in last year’s title game, Alabama just hasn’t done that this year. Instead, they’ve been content to stretch the edges in hopes of catching a corner for a big gain in the short term and setting up to grind opponents into dust in the fourth quarter. I’m not sure if that will work against Clemson. I do know that if Bama gets down a couple of scores, they might be treated to a dose of their own medicine as Clemson pins their ears back and rushes Hurts without impunity – and as Clemson has exactly one fewer sack than Alabama this year, that’s not a good sign. One thing in Alabama’s favor is that Clemson can’t really exploit tendencies due to Sark taking over as OC, but that’s obviously countered by the lack of on-field chemistry between he and the players, particularly Hurts.

On the other side of the ball, it’s a fascinating matchup. Clemson torched the Bama D for 40 last year, and that was without a full complement of skill players. Now they’ve got ’em all: Gallman, Williams, Cain, Leggett, Renfrow – and scariest of all, Watson. Any one of them can be a nightmare for Alabama. However, the Tide D has proven to be the stuff of nightmares for many a team this year, especially as they’ve seen crimson-clad defenders celebrating a touchdown. The front seven for Alabama will again be called upon to neutralize the ability of Watson to get the ball to his playmakers. Thus far, they’ve proven to be up to the challenge, but this will be their biggest test of the year.

Ultimately, I think the Tigers are the more complete team, and they have the better quarterback as well. Usually that’s enough to make the choice obvious. But Alabama has a defense that, when on its game, is one of the best of all time. I think that they also have a advantage in special teams, especially at punter. The question is whether one historically elite defense and one statistically good but struggling offense is enough to beat very good to excellent Clemson units.

I don’t think this will be a runaway for either side. I think that the game will be tight mostly throughout, and it may come down to one play. And this is where two big year-long trends come into focus: Deshaun Watson’s penchant for throwing interceptions, and Alabama’s uncanny ability to score touchdowns on the defensive side of the ball. I’ll go so far as to say that if Bama gets one, they win, and if they don’t, Clemson does. At the beginning of the year, I said that I am generally realistic-to-pessimistic regarding Alabama football. The pessimist in me says, “why should Alabama score a defensive touchdown in this game?” The realist looks at the games this year and says, “why wouldn’t they?” So in the battle between head and heart, I’m going to go with the realist. Alabama 23-20. 15-0.

Peach Bowl guess

Continuing the theme of this season, a quick look at the Peach Bowl against Washington:

I think that this will be a closer game than most think. Chris Petersen with a month to prepare is not to be taken lightly. In addition, Washington is going to play like a team with nothing to lose, as most are expecting them to do so in this game.

To me, the difference is the Bama front 7 against Washington’s offensive line. Washington hasn’t seen a team like Alabama up front, and that consistent pressure will wear on them over time and hopefully take away both the run game and the deep passing attack, as they won’t have time to set up for long throws. This will leave them with the short and intermediate routes, and my guess is that Alabama will be able to hold that in check often enough. I don’t expect Alabama to score a lot on offense; I think Washington’s defense is underrated. But Bama might get one on defense or create short fields for the offense if they can pressure Browning into making mistakes. Ultimately, I think it ends up looking a lot like the Washington-USC game from earlier. Bama 24-13. 14-0.

2016 Alabama football season recap and SECC guess

I told you I didn’t tend to overestimate what Alabama teams do. I predicted 10-2 with no SEC Championship berth; the Tide went 12-0 and will obviously be in Atlanta.

The big difference maker was Jalen Hurts stepping in and solidifying the quarterback position as well as he has. There are moments (especially when turnovers happen) when you have to shake your head and say, “he’s still a freshman”, and the downfield passing game isn’t as dangerous as it has been in years past, but he adds a dimension that Alabama opponents have never truly had to face. Combine that with a defense that is outstanding even by Nick Saban-coached teams’ standards, and you have the makings of a perfect regular season. It didn’t hurt that the SEC seems down this year. There aren’t any teams other than Alabama in the conference with less than three losses. While that makes the “anyone can beat anyone” argument hold some water, it damages the conference’s credentials as a whole. Nevertheless, here we are, and most people seem to believe that Alabama, flawed though it still may be, is the best team in the country. Are they? That remains to be seen. First, a date with the Gators.

Florida, as many readers know, is my second team. My wife is a graduate, I met her there, and I got a grad degree there. So this is my favorite pairing possible in the conference title game. Technically, I can’t lose. Of course, I’d prefer Alabama win. And I think that they will. Why? I could probably list many reasons, but I think two will suffice.

One: Alabama is simply the better, more complete team. There are very few weaknesses Alabama has, and those that are there tend not to be very big and are covered over well by the play of the defense as a whole. Florida has a very good defense as well, but the Gators just don’t have the offense to match. Special teams are a slight advantage to Alabama because of JK Scott. If he has a “normal” game, I just don’t see Florida making a lot of long drives for scores against the Tide defense.

Two: Alabama has the better injury situation. Yes, Tide fans would love to have Eddie Jackson in the defensive backfield, and we don’t know the extent of Marlon Humphrey’s leg injury, but Florida may have as many as nine starters out for this game.  Florida State showed what can happen when the Gator backups start wearing down in the late stages of the game, down a couple of scores. Combine that with an Alabama offense that closed out the Iron Bowl by killing nine minutes off the clock in just that situation, and I think it’s heavy advantage Alabama there.

You can’t finish 15-0 unless you get to 13-0. And I think that Alabama will do just that. They may start slowly; Hurts will probably be good for at least one freshman turnover, and the defense might finally let an opponent in their end zone. But in the end, I just don’t think Florida can hang with an Alabama team that is more talented, healthier, and deeper without playing the collective game of their lives. Alabama wins 27-7. 13-0.

2016 Alabama football season guess

I would say “prognostication” or something more grandiose, but let’s face it.  My thoughts are really nothing more than a wet finger in the air based on a certain amount of knowledge, but quite a bit of luck as well.  It probably should be said that when it comes to Alabama football, I generally fall somewhere between realist and pessimist.  I don’t tend to overestimate what Tide teams do.  In fact, I wouldn’t have picked three of our teams to win the national title in the last seven years (the exception was 2012, if you’re interested; I, like almost seemingly everyone else, thought Ohio State would win it last year).  But I thought it might be interesting to have this post for posterity once the season concludes and to see how close I came.  So here’s a quick game-by-game breakdown of the season.

USC (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas): since 2008, in season openers on neutral sites, Alabama has played Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Virginia Tech again, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  None of them have come within single digits of beating Alabama. Nick Saban is one of the absolute best in the business at preparing his team for the first game.  USC has a lot of talent – they are finally back to a full complement of scholarships, and they get top-flight athletes – but they also have a first-year head coach, and Alabama still wins on depth and overall talent.  I think this one will be close for a while, but Alabama pulls away a little in the fourth. 1-0.

Western Kentucky: trap game.  An opportunity for revenge against the Rebels is next, and it would be easy to overlook this team.  I’m not saying Alabama will lose.  I’m saying it will be closer than you think for a while. The Hilltoppers are a really good team, and it might be here that we start seeing some of the cracks that concern me for Alabama’s long-term prospects this year. Nevertheless, the Tide gets it done here. 2-0.

@ Ole Miss: here’s the thing. Alabama lost a lot of talent last year.  That happens every year; Saban has shown that he can reload. Ole Miss lost a lot of top-tier talent last year. They haven’t shown that they can reload yet. They have the better quarterback and the game is in Oxford; those are the only reasons that this one worries me. Alabama will be out for blood in this one, and I think they finally figure out the Rebels. 3-0.

Kent State: no discussion necessary, right? 4-0.

Kentucky: Kentucky is improving, but they’re not they’re yet. They’ll keep it close for a little while, but I’m thinking it’ll be a happy homecoming. 5-0.

@ Arkansas: this game scares the stew out of me. Arkansas has found its identity under Bielema. The game is in Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks gave Alabama everything they wanted and then some two years ago at Razorback Stadium. I was at that game, and I remember asking as we left the stadium, “how did Alabama win that game?” Arkansas didn’t know how to finish then. They do now. If this game stays close, Arkansas has shown they can find a way to win late. I’ll pick Alabama here, but if the quarterback situation hasn’t gelled by now, this game might very well be a loss. 6-0.

@ Tennessee: here it is: the game Butch Jones has worked up to since he arrived in Knoxville. The Volunteers have improved every year since he arrived, their recruiting has stepped up, their confidence is higher than it’s been in years. This is the time. If they don’t make the leap, it might not happen. I think they’ll have gotten the Florida monkey off of their back already. This is the last game of a really tough stretch, but if they’re undefeated going into this game, they’ll be playing for Atlanta.  There’s no one else on the schedule that can touch them.  And I hate to say it, but I think this is the year they get the Alabama monkey off of their back as well. A close, close, close game, but I think the Vols win it. 6-1.

Texas A&M: Trevor Knight is a familiar name to Bama fans, and he can put up points. If the Tennessee game goes as I expect it, the Tide will be down. But I am not picking against Alabama at home against a team that hasn’t yet proven it can consistently stop opposing offenses. 7-1.

@ LSU: the Tigers will be the toughest team Bama’s faced yet. Leonard Fournette might have a passing offense to go with him this year, and their defense will be salty as ever. I think LSU will be undefeated going into this game, and sadly, I think they’ll be undefeated coming out of it as well.  It’ll be close, but I think Fournette is the difference this year. 7-2.

Mississippi State: State could barely score against Alabama at home with the best quarterback in their history. They won’t beat them on the road with a first-year starter. 8-2.

Chattanooga: best case scenario – starters out by halftime, no injuries. Worst-case scenario: still a win. 9-2.

Auburn: always a difficult game to predict for me (pessimism, remember); I’ll attempt to be realistic. Alabama should be the better team, and the better team generally wins this game. The game is at Bryant-Denny, which means no weird Jordan-Hare zaniness that always seems to benefit the Tigers. In the past two years, Alabama has shown they can both beat Auburn in a shootout and simply overpower them. I’m not sure which one this will be, but I think Bama gets it done for a third Iron Bowl win in a row. 10-2.

SEC Championship: sadly, Alabama won’t make it. LSU will be the Western Division champ.

Bowl Game: either the Outback Bowl or the Texas Bowl.

So there you go; my best guess at how it all turns out. 10-2 is a great season most places, but Alabama isn’t most places. The scary thing to me is the parallels I’m already starting to see to 2010, a season that saw a Bama team loaded with talent underachieve in a season after winning a national title.  There are definitely a couple more loseable games in this schedule, so if the wheels fall off, the final record could be worse. Here’s hoping it’s a season more like 2012, where an Alabama team coming off of a national championship established its own identity and did it all over again.

we are luna moths

Early last week, I arrived at work and walked up to the outside door of my office building to see a large green moth that had perched itself on the glass.  Not thinking much about it, I walked inside and began my workday.  At lunch I left the office, to find it again on the outside door.  And again, as I left the office that day.  The next morning, it was back.  It was in a slightly different location on the door, but I was almost positive it was the same moth. This repeated over several more comings and goings.

The others in the office took notice.  A little discussion and a Wikipedia search later, I came to the conclusion that our little green friend was a luna moth. It is a pretty insect…and, as I quickly discovered, not a long-lived one.  This moth only has an adult lifespan of one week. It never eats in that phase; it has no mouth.  It lives only to mate. We wondered how long it had already been around, and whether we’d see it after the long Labor Day weekend.

I got to the office this morning, and sure enough, there it was. But you could tell it was in its final hours.  Its color was muted; its wings had begun to dry and crinkle like old paper. Still it clung to the door.

This evening, as we left for the day, one of my co-workers called out to me as I was walking to my car.  He picked up an almost-white husk from the ground, just a couple of paces from the door. Its torn wings and withered, lifeless body was the only evidence of what had been. He placed it back on the ground.

We like to think that there isn’t an end to all of this. Yet we see it all around us, and know…our lifespan is a flash compared to eternity. Psalm 90:10 reads in part, “our days may number seventy years, or eighty if our strength endures…but they quickly pass…” Improved medicine and living conditions haven’t changed those numbers all that much. We are mortal, whether we want to admit it or not. We are luna moths…only the temporal units have changed.  How do we spend what little time we have? I feel like I know the answer to that question most days, but some days I forget, or choose to forget, content to cling to the door, ignoring my purpose. Lord, help me.

new toy!

Not very long ago, my desktop of seven years finally went the way of the dinosaur. Thankfully, the hard drive was not the issue; it seems like the motherboard just fried. So one hard drive enclosure later, I had our files “backed up”.  But that left me with the need for a new computer.

We have always been a two-computer family. Well, aside from Kelly’s iPad, on which she does most of her daily activities.  I have had a laptop in our bedroom for email and web browsing, and the desktop was supposed to be the “serious” machine for telecommuting if necessary, and for my own personal programming.  But I had ended up using the laptop quite often for those tasks anyway. As an example, I had the flu earlier this year, and while I was contagious yet felt well enough to do something I was working in bed.  Meanwhile, the desktop really hadn’t been used much at all in months. If I wanted to get online downstairs, I found myself taking my laptop down there to do it.

So I decided to get another laptop, ordered it online, and it came in yesterday.  This is my first foray into using Windows 8, and my initial impression is that I’m looking forward to July 29 and the free upgrade to Windows 10. But the machine itself has been performing pretty well (at least once I removed some of the trialware that came along with it). I’m not doing a whole lot of setup on it until I do the OS upgrade, but once I do, I think I can reasonably see this machine lasting me for a good long while. I love the smell of a new computer in the morning!

sealed away

Last week, I went to Pratt, Kansas, to work on a new sanctuary for First Southern Baptist Church, Pratt as part of the Meadow Brook Builders for Christ team. This was my fourth BFC trip, and it’s become a highlight of the year for me. I hope to be able to go on the BFC trips for years to come.

I have generally worked on A/C systems while on the trips; this generally boils down to “duct assembler”.  We usually get a truckload or two of steel square and round duct at the beginning of the week, and the goal is to get as much of it put together and connected to the air conditioning units as possible by the end of the week.  It’s hot, of course: it’s summer, and because we’re installing the A/C, there is no A/C! But It requires a different set of skills than what I usually employ, and I always learn something new on the trips, which always makes it fun and enjoyable, and you really get to know people so much better on the trips. I liken it to something of a family reunion – you see people from other churches that you haven’t seen in a year, and you pick up with them right where you left off.

But that’s not the point of this post.

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“Can you read my heart?”

There is a lady in our church choir who is originally from Japan. She is a joy to have in the choir; always smiling, always thinking of others. She always makes a point to ask about Kelly if she didn’t make it to choir that day. English is not her first language; in fact, one of the reasons that she joined the choir was to help broaden her understanding of the language. Conversations with her are always friendly, but understandably she sometimes pauses to consider what word or phrase fits the thought she is trying to express.

Last night, after choir, she and I were talking about her impending visit to her native country. She mentioned how she felt sad in a way because she was going to miss her family here – her church family. The conversation eventually moved to her telling me a little bit about her time growing up in Japan, and she mentioned that she had a Bible – one of the few in Japan who did, even though she was not a Christian at the time. She felt that it was – something – that she had that Bible. She thought and thought, but the word wasn’t coming, so she pulled out her phone and looked for the English synonym for the Japanese word she had in her mind. I saw the translated answer – “destiny”.

As I sometimes need to do in conversations (not just ones with her), I asked if I could make sure I understood what she was saying. My understanding was that she believed that God put that Bible in her life at that time – even though she wasn’t yet a believer, even in a country where few keep Bibles – for a reason; somehow, it was part of His greater plan preparing her for what and where she was now.

She looked directly at me. I noticed the beginnings of tears forming in her eyes. She put a hand to her chest, and asked me, “can you read my heart?”

I found this turn of phrase, spoken by someone who speaks English as a secondary language, to have incredible weight and poignancy. I found myself almost speechless in reply; I think I tried to respond that I just thought I understood what she was talking about once I saw the word on the screen that she had been trying to find. We finished the conversation and went our separate ways, but that simple yet awesome question – “Can you read my heart?” – embedded itself in my mind as I drove home. It hasn’t left me yet.

We are called to be patient with each other (Ephesians 4:2), to be kind and compassionate to each other (Ephesians 4:32), to encourage each other (I Thessalonians 5:11, among others), to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to be devoted to each other (Romans 12:10), to be united in mind and thought (I Corinthians 1:10), and to live in harmony with each other (I Peter 3:8). If we do that in the love of Christ – really, truly – one to another, maybe we really can read each other’s hearts.

sometimes you surprise yourself

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to play in a charity golf tournament through my church. Now, I don’t play golf as often as I’d like, or that I probably should in order to play in such a tournament. There are some pretty good golfers at my church. I was placed onto a team with a fellow who has a reputation as one of the very best, and another who, when I asked how he was at golf, simply replied, “Good.” Eep.

Did I mention I count the number of times I have broken 100 on one hand?

Luckily, we were playing a scramble. For those who aren’t familiar with golf, this is a game where each player hits a shot, then you pick the best of the shots to play from, and continue until you finish the hole. This lets golfers of all abilities play on the same team without putting any undue pressure on the weaker ones. Whenever I play in a scramble, my goal is to just use my shot a couple of times during the course of play. i wasn’t sure that it would happen even once during this round.

I was happily wrong. I actually made some really good shots! I made a solo up and down for birdie from 30 feet below the green. I sank a long putt. We even used my drive more than once! There were also some times when I would have been really happy with my shot, but it was outclassed by another. We didn’t win, but I didn’t really expect to against some of the other teams that we were up against. And i feel that if I had to play my own shot for the entire round, I might have broken 100 again. It made me think about getting the clubs out more often, that’s for sure.