Sunday, June 28, 2009

What I Learned: Part 8 (The Finale)

This blog post is the eighth in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.)

What I Learned: The Finale — Top 10 Things College Taught Me
If you've missed the story so far, check out parts one through seven at the links above. In this final installment, I'll group the conclusions drawn from the original seven posts and expound on them here to determine exactly what I spent six years learning while earning my Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
  1. Plan ahead when you take courses and jobs as a teenager. Try your best to determine how much you will actually be able to use the related skills learned in the future. Are you potentially wasting time?
  2. Have fun, and forge a few good friendships. Don't miss out on opportunities when you are young that might not present themselves when you are older.
  3. Destiny has a sense of humor, and we can't really predict the future in terms of what to pay the most attention to now in order to prepare for the future. Take life as it comes, and realize that everything is eventually interconnected. Don't ignore any details.
  4. Take the good with the bad, persevere, adjust fire, and go on down range again.
  5. Practical, hands-on experience with specific skills are the most valuable courses one can take.
  6. Exposure to new, sometimes disturbingly unfamiliar, things can often help you reap great rewards.
  7. It make take a while to find what you are truly passionate about and good at, and it might take even longer before that's actually what you get to spend your life doing.
  8. Education is not a job guarantee, regardless of what the trumpeters of academia have society convinced of.
  9. Again, don't waste time. Ever. You can't get it back.
  10. Good research skills are the first needed attribute in just about any profession.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bubba Files: Meteorology Fail

We haven't had a Bubba Files to write about since the feature's inception, and who could've known that the second time around would also involve a cellphone snapshot of something funny on a car? This one is coming to you off I-81 in Virginia, right before the I-66 exit.

It appears that the van in front of me was on its way to Cooperstown, N.Y., likely for some sort of sporting event for a team called the Hurricanes. Immediately, I thought about the hockey team of that name in North Carolina, but with the NHL season well over (especially for the Hurricanes), I can only surmise one of three things:
  1. This car hasn't been washed in a long time.
  2. These people clearly didn't write the game schedules down correctly.
  3. There is another, even smaller, crappier sports team in North Carolina called the Hurricanes.
However, none of this really matters in terms of what makes this hilarious and ridiculous. I doubt anyone will "Fear the Storm," especially when you can't figure out what sort of storm exactly you want them to fear. Notice the "Hurricanes" written on the window, but then take a closer look at what is actually drawn on the window. Yeah, those aren't hurricanes — they're tornadoes.

You see, a hurricane is not cylindrical, my meteorologically inept Tar Heel friends, it actually looks like this:


Note the circular shape with the eye in the middle, which looks nothing like the upside-down triangles you've so masterfully painted on your glass, Bubbas.


Now, please excuse me while I go cheer on the Tigers.


Oops.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What I Learned: Part 7

This blog post is the seventh in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.)

Fall 2007 — Spring 2009: Graduate School
I've decided to lump all four semesters of grad school into one post, considering I learned the least in grad school and racked up a lot of research and thesis hours that I obviously won't cover here. Check out the previous six parts if you are out of the loop on the story so far!

COMM 5014 — Communication Theory
I had a heck of a guy for the professor teaching this class, but it was mostly an overview of the areas in which one can study at the graduate level in communication, with guest speakers each week from various disciplines. I learned that much of what scholars call theory, I just call horse sense.

COMM 5024 — Communication Research Methods
I have one course that I didn't mention when talking about Marshall because it was technically a grad class — Statistical Methods. It went on to my VT transcripts for credit, and it was a big help in preparing me for this research methods class in communication. We did a content analysis and an experiment, ran the stats and wrote two papers all in one semester for this class. I learned a lot about experimental design, writing good survey questions, etc. This is probably in the top three most valuable grad classes I had, and the nicest, most-helpful professor in the world taught it.

COMM 5614 — Rhetorical Theory & Criticism
Why this is a required course for a public relations major, I don't even know. It should be in an English department first of all, and it is in many places I'm told. I learned nothing from this class except that some Ph.D.s have no idea how to teach whatsoever, regardless of how much they might be able to publish. The professor for this course was rude, creeptastic and gave unrealistic and vague assignments. Luckily, my adviser would later be able to steer me in the right direction regarding the application of the topics within the realm of rhetoric.

COMM 5814 — Theories of Mass Media: Agenda-Setting, Framing and Priming
Let me just say — one semester focused on only three theories? What were they thinking?!?! Now, I know agenda-setting has attributes and building levels, as does framing in some sense, but still, we ended up beating the dead horse a lot in this class. After the first few weeks, we discussed the same thing every time. If nothing else, I will say I learned how to explain these three theories very, very well.

COMM 5814 — The Political Columnist
This class had its high and low points. On one hand, I wrote a good political column each week that ended up going online with Planet Blacksburg for the whole semester. On the other, we went around each week, read our columns aloud, then listened to the same story from the professor he told us the previous week but had already forgotten he had told us. Nice guy, fun to work with and chat with, but I sort of got the vibe he wasn't too keen on having us do much work or trying to teach us much. He did require a research paper at the end, for which the guidelines were — well, there were no guidelines, so I wrote about metaphor in political columns and pulled off a great paper.

PAPA 5315 — Government Administration
I don't know who named this class, but it had nothing to do with working in the government or administrating anything. It should've been called, "Personalities and Poor Professoring 101." We talked about the MBTI personality test and how managing lots of different people takes certain types of leadership decisions, etc., but it was never anything more than common sense kind of stuff. The professor had a few guest speakers come in, none of which were very good speakers. Some classes, he just showed us some random slideshow or talked for hours on end about how great he was and how much he liked red wine. The best part was when he was going to tell us how to put together a résumé (because we obviously didn't know that by the time we were in graduate school), and the slides he showed us had stuff misspelled all over the place. Rather than actually teaching anything himself, he assigned each student a chapter from the book to teach each week, though he did rudely interrupt each presenter several times to ask odd, irrelevant questions. And thus the reasons I took no more CPAP classes at VT.

COMM 5814 — Campaigns
Don't let the title of this class fool you. Had it not been for my own go-gettering, I would've done nothing related to campaigns in this class. The subject matter was supposed to be public relations, political and public health campaigns, though we spent the majority of our time on the latter. Most of this class was just one student wasting our time by enjoying conversation time with the professor like the rest of us weren't in the room. We talked about some campaigns, but we were never taught anything about campaign development, strategy, employment, etc. We just read about them in journal articles, and we delved into communication theory a lot more than should have been done for a campaigns class. This should have been a hands-on class, which is what I made it. I got permission to do my final project as a campaign development for the local government's museum project, a capital campaign, in lieu of a final research paper. My mentor and friend who was my internship boss helped me with this opportunity where I really did a lot of my own research and got into the meat of campaign development, no thanks to the actual campaigns course. Oh, and I still haven't received a grade or comments about that final project, even though I've been graduated for almost two months and out of the class for more than six.

COMM 5814 — Crisis Communication
Other than my internship, this class is the most valuable thing I did in grad school. My adviser taught the class, and she and I really are on the same wavelength as far as learning styles, I think. She uses lots of great, real-life examples and diagrams to support and explain communication theory. I learned to really thing strategically and found my love for what I really hope to do someday — be in charge of a corporation or client's long-term strategic communication plans, especially in terms of environmental scanning and employing actional legitimation. Unfortunately, most entry-level PR practitioners (and many senior ones) never get to do this sort of thing, but I can always dream.

COMM 5814 — Communication Studies Seminar in Pedagogy
The three-hour credit was actually spread in one-hour credits across the course of the first three semesters of grad school. It was usually right around lunch time, which made it sort of an annoyance, especially for those who had no other reason to be on campus that day. Most of what we did could have been done via discussion board and e-mail, and the graduate teaching assistants were the ones enrolled, and they all already had a separate required meeting each week where we rehashed the same stuff. That's not to say I didn't learn some good things about what to do and not do as a teacher, but I really didn't need three semesters to grasp that. Plus, experience is the best thing in learning about that sort of thing. I had a good professor here who was friendly and made it go smoothly, but I'm glad to hear that they've changed this to just a one-semester, optional course in the department.

COMM 5904 — Project and Report
The single most-valuable part of graduate school for me wasn't a class at all. It was this, my internship. I got to be involved at least minimistically with a very wide array of projects to get an idea of how to actually work in a public relations setting. My previous PR experience was media relations and events only, and other than that, I was all journalism. This internship helped me see advertising and PR working together, as well as more-strategic realms of PR such as helping corporate clients get themselves out of messes or project-based tasks such as creating annual reports for other clients.

COMM 5514 — Public Relations Theory & Practice
This class was pretty much Campaigns, Comm Theory and Crisis Communication all rolled into one. There was a lot of rehashing theories and very little practice. Wait, I think there was no practice.

COMM 5894 — Final Examination
I chose to do a combination of internship (with an 80-plus-page paper incorporating my experiences into theory) and final examination (comprehensive exams) in lieu of a thesis. I'm glad I did because all of those thesis-track people have a thick slab of paper that might, if they are lucky, see partial publication in a journal someday. On the other hand, I got valuable work experience and a chance to demonstrate my mastery of all of the subjects covered during my two years in grad school.

COMM 5974 — Independent Study (Research Task Force)
So I actually persuaded my adviser to let me do an independent study where I wrote nothing wholly new, but instead I did multiple revisions on papers for conference/journal submissions. I figured the submissions would be a big help if I ever want to go on for a Ph.D. I got three journal submissions out, and I have a few papers nearing completion of another revision. Perhaps once I get a job, then I'll start worrying about all of that stuff again and try some publishing in my spare time. What I learned? The peer-reviewed world of publication is harsh, and Ph.D.s who teach at research institutions must be nuts trying to get published all the time when they could just go teach somewhere (oh wait, see Rhetorical Theory & Criticism professor notes above).

So what did I learn in grad school?
  1. Exposure to new things, such as communication theory outside the realm of journalism-school curriculum, helps you think at new levels.
  2. There is no substitute for hands-on, practical experience, and today's academics just don't seem to understand that.
  3. Graduate school is a nice distraction from the real world for two more years after college, especially if you have an assistantship for funding purposes, but the M.A. won't guarantee you a job over someone who can show they've been working in the field full-time while you were learning about McCombs and Shaw.
  4. People waste a lot of time researching and writing about stuff that country boys just call common sense.
  5. I learned to become a much better researcher, which is handy when developing any sort of strategic plan.
  6. Going to a football school is a heck of a lot of fun. Going to one with some really down-to-earth, nerdy classmates just adds to the fun.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What I Learned: Part 6

This blog post is the sixth in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.)

Fall 2006 & Spring 2007
We've finally reached my senior year, the final two semesters of undergraduate education at Marshall University! Let's see what I learned on my way to figuring out what would be the next step, which ended up being grad school (and I'll talk about those classes in the next post in the series).

JMC 302 — Advanced Editing & Design
I was the managing editor of the student newspaper when I had this class, which was basically supposed to teach you how to be a copy editor, the people I was overseeing. I pretty much just did my actual job while the professor was in the newsroom teaching the other students in the class and got credit.

JMC 304 — Computer-Assisted Reporting
This class was probably the biggest pain out of all the ones I took in college. I never did so much work for one class, even in graduate school. And it was all tedious work with databases and spreadsheets and such. To make it even worse, there was group work. However, I can't say everything about this class was bad because it gave me a prep in statistics, and the in-depth stories I got out of this class turned into some really great clips and earned me an in-depth reporting award.

JMC 360 — Digital Imaging for Journalism and Mass Communications
All I can say is this is one of the most valuable classes I have ever had. I learned the principles of photography, magazine design and video editing here. I can only wish that the class had focused a little more on convergence than having projects assigned by major. I'm told now that the class is much more converged so that everyone, even print majors, are doing video projects in addition to their print final projects and such. This class was made even better because my wonderful adviser was the professor.

JMC 430 — Magazine Article Writing
I think this class met maybe two or three times. We did most of the work independently and just met outside of class with the professor as needed for advice on our two big magazine article projects, for which we were required to do quite a bit of research. I really liked that format, especially during my busiest semester of undergrad.

JMC 490 — Journalism and Mass Communication Internship
I interned in the university's Office of Communications and Marketing, as a public relations intern. It was here I began to realize I liked the variety of PR more than hardcore journalism.

PSC 433 — Public Administration and Policy Development
This old guy who looked like Mr. Rogers taught this class where the only assignment the whole semester was one paper. He gave reading assignments too, but we never really discussed them in class. He always just talked about the U.S. Forest Service and no one really knew what he was getting at. I wrote my final paper on the leadership style of Jim Sinegal vs. Sam Walton.

ENG 360 — Creative Writing
Another English elective here, and what a fun one it was! There was a lot more poetry involved than I liked, but we did get to write two short stories in peer-review fashion, which was helpful and interesting. This class was just more writing practice, and a chance to get away from the concise, boring writing of journalism.

JMC 414 — Public Affairs Reporting
I think I did my project for this class as an in-depth piece about whether or not athletes are good role models for children, comparing NCAA and professional athletes. This class only met a few times, and we just checked in with the professor as needed for guidance on our projects. As long as we finished our list of assignments by the end of the semester, we were good to go. This was a great format for me because I worked really hard to turn in everything on the list by mid-semester, and then I didn't go to the class anymore or have to worry about it.

JMC 440 — Ethics
The dean of the journalism school taught this course, where we discussed Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant and others in terms of ethics and how they relate to journalism. We often had to turn in papers examining ethical issues in the media, and we generally had some good discussions. The class ended with our senior capstone papers and a group debate about various ethical issues.

I'll admit, I got to do a good bit of shamming at some points during my senior year. Some classes were very loose as far as having solid meetings, and others I had already basically completed through other means and were just there as a formality. I learned to persevere when the going gets tough, like when I had computer-assisted reporting and was also working at the newspaper 30+ hours a week. I also looked back and realized I had done pretty well at this college thing and that maybe I should look into graduate school. And, of course, I began to get a taste for public relations and open up to exploring the "dark side" of journalism, as some call it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I Learned: Part 5

This blog post is the fifth in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

Fall 2005 & Spring and Summer 2006
After a short break from this series to cover some college football, I'm back at it! There's plenty public relations, media, sports and other coverage you're used to seeing coming back to the blog soon enough, but for now I'm sticking to how I got to all of that — college. What did each class teach me, exactly? Be sure to click the links above to check out parts one through four for the story so far. Now, we'll continue with my junior year!

BSC 104 — Introduction to Biology
This class was a two-parter in a way. It went on my transcript as one four-hour-long course, though in reality it was a three-hour large lecture and a one-hour lab. The lecture portion was ridiculously easy because whenever someone would get a question wrong on one of the exams, the professor would give in if the person argued some vague technicality and give everyone credit for the question. This resulted in what I'm sure were plenty of A grades. The lab portion comprised using outdated equipment to look at amoebas and other mindless tasks. I would later see the TA I had for the lab almost get arrested while participating in a Wiccan ritual.

ENG 480 — Comics as Literature
I can't say enough good things about this class or the professor who taught it. I took this class because English courses were always easy for me, I needed an elective, I liked comics, and I expected an English elective comics class to be particularly easy for a 400-level class. I found myself quite surprised, as we read a large amount of graphic novels in the class during the short period of a semester, writing reaction papers and such to go with each. Each class member chose a comic outside of the assigned readings about which to do a presentation, which was very interesting. We read the most culturally relevant and well-known graphic novels, such as The Watchmen and Maus, for example. The in-class discussions were full of thought-provoking debates, nerdology and actual learning using a medium that we all loved.

JMC 301 — News Reporting II
This may have been the most useful, true-to-life class I had during my six years of college education. This was a tough, time-consuming class. I know people who have taken it three times to pass or switched majors so as not to have to take it. The journalism school intertwined this class to make the students the reporters for the actual school newspaper. The result was a real newsroom environment, complete with fussy editors, deadlines and consequences for not adhering to things such as AP style. It was here that I enriched my writing and deadline-meeting skills as never before, and I became a better, more-confident interviewer.

RST 321 — The Protestant Faith
I was raised Baptist, one of many Protestant Christian denominations, so I decided to take this class to fulfill my religious studies requirement (which could have also been filled with philosophy or the classics). I learned a lot about other denominations to which I hadn't really been previously exposed, and I enjoyed this class except for the zealots who refused to take it as a class and not a podium from which to force their own beliefs on classmates. Fun fact: My professor in this class looked like evil Santa Claus.

SPN 101 — Introductory Spanish
Considering my high school Spanish classes consisted of eating Mexican food and watching videos in Spanish because they ran out of Spanish teachers and stuck me with the French etacher, this was basically my first real exposure to formal foreign language learning. Luckily, I had a nice elderly Brazilian woman as my professor who was understanding but able to convey the concepts behind the language.

CJ 200 — Introduction to Criminal Justice
This class was a requirement for all of the journalism students, and we usually came out of it with better grades than the criminal justice majors. After all, it's a repeat of stuff you should already know by the time you are in college.

ISC 283 — Transportation & Environment
Marshall required all students to take an integrated science course as part of its "Marshall Plan," which really just seemed like a way to add unnecessary requirements that force students to pay tuition for more semesters. As it turned out, this class had very little to do with transportation or the environment, at least in the sense you probably think about the words. Our two projects consisted of (1) finding sediment ponds and walls and documenting them with GPS and reporting back to our professor of what type they were (why we did this I still am unsure) and (2) digging through hundreds of shells and classifying what type of mollusks they were and putting them into groups for hours on end (I can only guess this was a sick joke the professor liked to play).

JMC 241 — Graphics of Communication
This was another highly useful, practical class — the type I wish I would've had in graduate school as opposed to useless theories only known to the people who invented them and those with enough time to waste studying them. It was here that I learned to use Photoshop and InDesign particularly well while having fun designing different activities, all culminating with a fictional movie poster design.

JMC 402 — Law of Mass Communication
I had the greatest professor for this class. We memorized about a gazillion court cases and FCC laws and such, but he made it fun, and he made us understand why we as journalists needed to know the law in order to keep ourselves out of trouble.

PSC 406 — International Politics
Being only a political science minor and not a major, this course started out a little bit over my head. However, as the semester went on, all of the various political theories began to make sense, and the professor's real-life examples (including many jokes about Canada) were compelling and fun. I didn't learn much here that would be useful in the real world, but this early introduction to complex theoretical concepts and the analytical papers we wrote about them was a good prep for grad school.

SPN 102 — Introductory Spanish II
My way-too-skinny, smokes-way-too-much Spanish professor was barely understandable in English, and she rarely spoke English, even from day one. This was a tough class, but many extra hours of studying got me through it. I learned to use context clues in Spanish very well.

JMC 404 — History of American Journalism and Mass Communications
You might remember me writing about professor creeptastic in one of the previous posts. Well, I had him again for this summer class, and because it was a summer class, I had to see him every day. Luckily, I had some great classmates with which to study in the evenings, and the course material was pretty interesting to me as an up-and-coming journalist.

SPN 203 — Intermediate Spanish III
My Texan professor was highly energetic and actually taught in English and then repeated everything she said several times in Spanish, which I found to be a very helpful learning tool. She assigned a lot of homework, and we had daily quizzes (again, a summer course). I never did quite get down conjugating verbs very well, but I was able to spend the evenings memorizing each tense for the next day's quiz. I did well enough on those quizzes that I still pulled off the A even though I had to do all of the tenses at once on the final exam, which didn't work out so well.

PSC 431 — Politics of Global Terrorism
This course blew my mind. I have never thought about terrorism and terrorists quite the same way since. The exams here were pretty rough, as they were hours-long Blue Book types, like I would later experience at an even higher level in grad school. There was too much information in one semester (we covered basically every terrorist group in history) to really learn any of it, so I did a lot of memorization. I still have the basics in my head, though, and this is the kind of course (and professor) you wish you could take more than once.

SPN 204 — Intermediate Spanish IV
Ah, my final Spanish class and what would be my final summer course ever. Even stranger, this was an online course. That's right, a language course online. Basically though, there is little speaking involved and more reading and translating by the time you reach the fourth Spanish class, considering you should already be decent at the speaking part. I used online translators a whole lot, which worked well enough to get by. One of the neat things about this class was the professor assigned us a lot of online Spanish media to consume, which was fun and a great way to get hands-on learning before exams.

I think this time period during my college education gave me three important things:
  1. Practical, hands-on experience with specific skills and a realization that these are the most valuable courses one can take.
  2. Experience with theoretical concepts, research and graduate school-type exams and reading loads.
  3. Important exposure to a foreign language that is growing at exponential rates.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ranking Must-See Matchups — College Football 2009: Week One

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know that I often take a time-out from public relations, media and education-related posts to talk a little bit of football. In fact, one of the most-viewed and most-commented on posts recent on the site is my VT vs. Bama analysis. So I'm taking a break from my "What I Learned" series, which will return soon. For this post, I'd like to take a minute and get you even more excited about the upcoming college football season by reviewing some of the great matchups we have coming our way during the regular season's first week. The rankings beside each team come from Mark Schlabach's revised way-too-early 2009 top 25 rankings on ESPN.com. (For game dates, times and TV schedules, visit this page. Some games may still be TBA during the summer.) These games are in order of how awesome they are (with a ranking in parentheses), not in order of when the games take place during the weekend.

Week One

(1) #4 Alabama vs. #5 Virginia Tech — The Chik-fil-A College Kickoff game in Atlanta really isn't. However, it's still guaranteed to be a hard-hitting defensive battle with mostly unproven offenses going at it.

(2) #12 Oregon at #17 Boise State — Oregon's coaches are looking to unseat USC as the leader of the PAC-10, and beating a perennially tough Broncos team would be a good start.

(3) Miami at #23 Florida State — An in-state ACC battle between two teams who could find themselves in the conference championship race easily this season. FSU has to keep players out of trouble, and Miami has to get back to doing what it does best — win.

(4) Brigham Young vs. #2 Oklahoma — BYU probably will not be the powerhouse they were last season, but they'll be on the hunt to prove that they can still hang with the big boys. An upset here would have significant implications on the national championship race early on, and seeing how Texas and Florida play Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern, respectively, this will be the only chance at a good upset you'll see in the first week. Texas and Florida should be ashamed at their cupcake-eating habits from year to year while about a dozen other teams have zero FCS schools on their schedule this season (our #1 matchup includes the Hokies, who are one of those teams, with the ESPN-analyst-rated #1 toughest nonconference schedule in the country).

(5) South Carolina at NC State — These might be unranked teams, but another chance to argue SEC vs. ACC is always worth watching. NC State is also expected to surprise some people this season and has the best quarterback in the ACC.

(6) Cincinnati at #25 Rutgers — This game will go a long way toward determining who will lead the Big East race this season. Big East teams playing other teams from conferences with automatic BCS bids might be like watching babies attempting to hunt T-Rexes, but every guy likes watching two girls pillow fight in their undies.

(7) Baylor at Wake Forest — Baylor is expected to be much-improved this year, and Riley Skinner and the Demon Deacons will look for a way to make an early statement that the ACC's best team is not Virginia Tech.

(8) Appalachian State at East Carolina — One of the country's best FCS teams visits arguably the best midmajor program in the country.

(9) Liberty at West Virginia — JUST KIDDING! Weaksauce, Mountaineers. You should be ashamed at scheduling the Falwells — uh — Flames.

(10) Take your pick. There are plenty of games that could fit in this slot. What is your recommendation? Do you agree with the list? Which game are you looking forward to the most? Leave it in the comments!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I Learned: Part 4

This blog post is the fourth in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Fall 2004, Spring 2005 & Summer 2005
This is sort of a bonus post because I'm covering three semesters of classes instead of the usual one. In reality, though, there's not much bonus to it. I didn't attend college in the fall 2004 semester because I was sidetracked by the Army making me be elsewhere after I finished my spring semester. I guess what I learned from that experience is never trust what anyone in the Army tells you about being able to schedule things around college because it is all a lie. Fact: Recruiters will tell you anything, and they won't ever have to suffer any consequences for the stretching of truths that they do. Tip: If you ever join the military, don't be afraid to ask for things in writing, and don't sign contracts until they've covered every little possible detail you can think up. I'm serious, anyone who has been in the military will tell you that they will screw you over in at least one way during your enlistment.

Luckily, I was able to return to school for the spring 2005 semester, and I even started doing some summer school stuff. I still graduated in four years with many more credits than I needed, so I suppose things always work out for the best if you're willing to keep working hard.

ENG 102 — English Composition II
Because I had English 101 and a literature credit on my transcript from AP classes in high school, the only English course I was required to take in my four years of college was this one (though I elected to take more later). My professor, Chris, was a young guy fresh out of grad school who looked remarkably like a guy I would meet later in grad school named Alex. This course was super easy for a journalism major such as myself. We wrote one short story. I wrote a time-traveling fictional adventure about Native Americans and modern-day U.S. soldiers in Iraq. You're welcome to take a look sometime. We also watched some films and wrote film reviews as our other major assignments, which was unique and fun. In one review, I gave "Silence of the Lambs" four animals that never appear in the movie out of five and placed clip-art lambs at the top of the page instead of stars.

GEO 100 — Introduction to Cultural Geography
Oh, I remember all too well this class I took to fulfill one of the multicultural requirements of the dreaded Marshall Plan (a.k.a. Marshall's way of requiring more multicultural, international, integrated science and writing-intensive courses of all majors in order to keep them in college and paying tuition longer). I had geography courses in elementary and middle school when I was attending a private school, so I still remembered everything, which would've made this class a breeze. Except, the exams were photocopied pages out of some book, and the professor had hand-drawn arrows pointing toward oceans, rivers, mountain ranges, capitals, etc. So, the result was a messy photocopy with a wiggly arrow pointing at what could either be the Mississippi River or any city near it. Requests for clarification of what exactly these arrows (often right beside other arrows and accompanied with obscure letter/number combinations to match with the answer sheet) were point at were denied, leading many expert cartographers like myself to miss easy questions. Hopefully they've found someone reasonable to teach this course by now.

JMC 201 — News Writing I
This is another unforgettable class, and the only thing less than an A I received during my time in the J-school at Marshall. Yeah, this guy gave me a B. The reason? Well, I'm persuaded that it's because I don't have female anatomy. This professor was straight-up creepy as it was. He looked and sounded like Count Olaf in "Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'." He often asked female students to come to his office to pick up their graded assignments because he "forgot them" them in his office. The reason I got a B in the class? Well, it probably has something to do with the F I received on the first story of the class. Here I was, a brand-new journalist in training in my first-ever official news-writing class, and he tells us to do a news story with a photo on anything we want. Well, it just so happened that we had a blizzard that weekend, so I did a story about the snow and took photos at the nearby park. Now, granted, my story was not extremely hard news, but that much snow I felt was newsworthy. I didn't just write about pretty snow, either, I had quotes from the Department of Highways on what they were doing, quotes from the state police and also from weather experts. So Mr. Creeptastic thought my story wasn't newsworthy enough and gave me an F. I really wanted to look him up and shove in his face the snow story I had published years later in a daily newspaper bigger than he has probably ever read, but he's not worth taking the time to find. OK, Google actually doesn't take any time — he's at some school no one has ever heard of in Pennsylvania now, guess being mean worked out for him.

MS 202 & 202 L — Leadership and Teamwork, Military Science Leadership Lab
More of the same over in cadet land with the Army ROTC. I still wasn't impressed with ROTC, but I still had plans to commission at this point, and I was a little more motivated to do so having just returned from military duty the previous semester.

MS 212 — Ranger Operations and Techniques
This was a fun class. Of course, this class started at 6 a.m. or earlier, which meant no all-nighters or parties the nights before. This one usually involved putting on some combat uniforms, loading up some rucksacks and going for a run across state lines or a road march up some brutal West Virginia hills surrounding the city. We also did urban operations, paintball, bunker assault training and various other tactical exercise lanes all in preparation for the annual Ranger Challenge event.

PSC 202 — American State Government & Politics
Do you ever look back at events in life and wonder why the heck you can't remember them even taking place, even though you know for sure they did? This class is an example of that in my own life. I know I had this class with my friend Miranda, and I know it was on one of the top floors of Smith Hall. I remember the professor was a blonde, an adjunct and that she bought us pizza on the final day of class. As for course material, I honestly have no idea what we did. I think it was mostly a review with just some more-advanced stuff from the earlier political science class I had taken as a freshman. Weird.

HST 231E — American History Since 1877
I took this course online in the summer of 2005, and it was an enjoyable experience to just be able to read the book and learn on my own. The instructor utilized online quizzes and exams, but he also had us post on the discussion board for the class online, which was really fun. We had some good discussions about historical events, and we actually covered all of the significant events in history, not just one (see previous blog post link above). I guess my only question is why the cutoff date had to be 1877 for the two history courses? Perhaps because the first Westminster Dog Show was that year?

And now we're a little farther down the road in this journey of discovery, reminiscing and (hopefully) enlightenment. Sometimes college is fun, sometimes you get stuck with professors who don't realize where their head is stuck, sometimes classes aren't made the least bit memorable and seem to be there only to fulfill a requirement, sometimes you do things you think you'll need later but won't (but you never mind those as much as doing the things you don't think you'll need to know but actually will), and we just have to take the good with the bad, sort it all out, and see where we end up next semester.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What I Learned: Part 3

This blog post is the third in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! (Part 1, Part 2.)

Spring 2004
Enter semester two of college. If you haven't kept up, click the two links above to get the story so far. Otherwise, let's continue the journey through college to see what I learned from each class.


Always remember, kids, Tom's advantage is in his nuts (click photo for larger image).

ECN 200 — Survey of Economics
Yes, believe it or not, economics was a required course for journalism majors at Marshall. I understood this somewhat, as journalists need to know a little bit about everything, and economics could come in handy if one lands a business beat. (Or really works in the news at all considering today's economic situation in the U.S.) I was pleasantly surprised with this class, as I had a little old man by the name of Nick who was sort of difficult to understand at times (I think he was Greek or something), but Nick taught us the principles of economics using wonderful examples such as growing bananas. Believe it or not, even with my dislike of math, I considered switching my major or minor to economics about halfway through this class. I'm sort of glad that I didn't, but I understood a little more about how the markets operate, and I developed my own opinions about how I would prefer them to do so. Two words: comparative advantage. (Did I mention I drive a Toyota?)

GLY 110 & GLY 210L — General Geology & Earth Materials Lab
OK, OK, I know, I opted for geology instead of a science that might have been considered more scientific, but I will say that (A) I was a journalism major, duh, and (B) I was required to have more science credits, which I ended up fulfilling with biology courses. I didn't really learn anything new in geology class that I hadn't heard in high school sciences courses, and I had collected gemstones and such as a kid, so the lab portion of the course was really easy too. In fact, the lab involved two things — map reading and identifying stones. I had known how to read a military-style USGS map for years because of my JROTC experience in high school, and most of the rocks I had to identify were things my nerdy little self had sitting at home in an old drawer. These two classes earned me four hours of credit and not much more.



HST 230 — American History to 1877
Let me just say this now — I am not a racist. And as Dane Cook so eloquently puts it on his new album, just because I voted for Barack Obama and now have a black president, that does not qualify me to say anything I want about black people. Nor does the fact that I have several black friends. I'll say this — slavery is perhaps the darkest blemish in America's history, and all men and women are indeed to receive equal treatment for equal action. However, I think it is pretty safe to say that more happened in America before 1877 than just slavery. But not if you ask the professor I had for this class. I will say that the professor was a very thought-provoking guy, and he was one of the best lecturers at Marshall. He just ignored everything and anything else that ever happened in America, and we spent the entire semester reading about slaves, talking about slaves and watching films such as Amistad. I felt ripped off after this course because I didn't get a full historical overview, but I'm guessing obviously not as ripped off as the professor felt for his ancestors.

JMC 102 — Info Gathering Research
I think just the title of this class is really unique. What sort of research is not info gathering, and if it is indeed info gathering research, shouldn't it be info-gathering (hyphenated) research? While the title of this course is obscure, the actual educational value thereof was not. This course reviewed things such as using the library and online databases to gather information, as well as conducting good interviews and polls. I wrote what was probably my first real research paper in this class, which if I remember correctly, was about the unification of America after Sept. 11 and the subsequent division of it at the beginning of the Iraq War. This was a simple, but valuable, course.

MS 102 & MS 102L — Basic Leadership & Military Science Leadership Lab
Basically, these two courses were a repeat of the previous semester's military science classes, and they just continued to water down stuff from basic training for freshman college students whom they were trying to persuade to contract with the military. For those of us already under military contract, this was a total bore of a class.

PSC 104 — American National Government & Politics
Not only was this course required for my major, but also it was the first class I ever took in my minor. Yes, the fact that so many political science hours were required for my major was basically the deciding factor in taking the one extra course to make it a minor. However, I've always been very interested in politics, and I think having this minor helped me out a lot as I moved on to graduate school in a very political communication-focused program.

If there's one thing I really can take away from this semester, it's probably how life seems to have a sense of humor. Or maybe things just turn out sort of ironically from time to time. What I mean is, did anyone (including the professor) realize that the U.S. would be in an economic recession just five or so years after I was in an economics course? I don't seem to remember much discussion about it. And who would've thought that I would end up in a graduate school communication program where politics was the cornerstone of most of the research being done there? Having a political science minor really didn't influence my choice in where I went to graduate school, but it's neat how things turned out. This all just goes to show that we should never take anything we learn or do for granted, as it may come in handy just a few years down the road.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

What I Learned: Part 2

This blog post is the second in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream! You can read the first part here.

Fall 2003
Ah, my first semester of college. I can remember the excitement and freshness that came with being a freshman at Marshall University. I lived in Holderby Hall, where I would meet some great people, have tons of fun and learn a lot about life. Most importantly, though, I lived right above one of the dining facilities and two floors below the all-girls floors of the residence hall.

ART 112 — Intro to Visual Art
The professor read to us out of the textbook, word-for-word. After attempting to be a good student for a couple of weeks, I started sitting in the back of the classroom and playing through every Mega Man video game ever created. I defeated Dr. Wily and got an A in the class at the same time.

CMM 103 — Fundamentals of Speech Communication
Had I known I would teach public speaking courses in graduate school, I probably would have given this class a heckuva lot more attention. I was already used to speaking in front of people after my JROTC experience in high school and just having returned from Army basic training the summer before my first semester of college. The class went well, but there were also these obscure multiple-choice exams involved. I made it through, but I don't really remember anything from the class specifically. If I did, perhaps I could've made comparisons to how things worked at Virginia Tech and could have been able to make adjustments to my own teaching style.

HON 101 — Introduction to Honors
This was a really neat class, though I probably didn't actually learn anything. It was neat because there were only about 10 of us who met in a small room inside of Old Main. The room was like a Hogwarts library or a rich old man's den. The very pretigious and historic atmosphere coupled with an easygoing, insightful professor made for good random conversation. This course was meant as an introduction to time management, the campus and similar topics for honors students. The topics we covered were really nothing new, but this was only a one-hour credit course anyway, and I feel as though it made the transition to college special for our little group.

JMC 100 — Fundamentals of Journalism Writing & Editing
This is probably the first class I've mentioned so far where I really learned some things, and it was of course the first time I got to delve into my major of journalism. My professor here was very mom-like, and I would go on to have her several times again. She was caring and offered great advice, but she gave tough grammar and AP style quizzes that challenged young freshmen to step up and develop a mastery of journalistic language early on in the academic process.

JMC 101 — Media Literacy
The absolute best professor in the entire world taught this class, and I would have him later for Media Law. He ran circles around the auditorium, screaming and hitting students on the head with papers. He consumed large amounts of Diet Dr. Pepper and persuaded us that love doesn't exist — it's created by the media, of course. Most of all, I developed an understanding of how to interpret and analyze what I see in the media, and I realized as never before how powerful the work I was soon to do as a journalist could be.

MS 101 — Foundations of Officership & MS 101L — Military Science Basic Leadership Lab I
For anyone who doesn't already know, MS stands for military science. I probably should've mentioned earlier on that my original reason for going to college in the first place was to enroll in ROTC and become an Army officer. Anyone who knows me knows that isn't how things turned out. In fact, after going through basic training and MOS training at Ft. Knox, Ky., ROTC courses seemed like a boring joke. I ended up liking my major more than I thought I would when I chose it as a "backup" to comissioning. I excelled in college, and the military seemed less and less important to me, especially after the first semester in ROTC courses. It was still nice to get some experience in a military atmosphere and have the camaraderie I missed so much from basic training, though, so I decided to stick with it a little longer.

MTH 121 — Concepts and Applications
This definitely was not your average college math class, especially judging from what people who have attended other universities have told me. This was good for me, though, as I wasn't that strong in math when I started college. I had terrible math teachers in middle and high school, and I had grown to despise the subject. In this course, I got a refresher from algebra and geometry, but the problems here were primarily reasoning and logical thinking situations in the form of word problems. I had an interesting professor who often allowed pet turtles to run around the room during class, so this introduction to collegiate math was much more fun than pre-college math, but I still wasn't going to give the topic much time. Had I done so, I probably would not have had to spend as much time beefing up for statistics class, the GRE and my graduate research methods course later down the road.

I guess hindsight really is 20/20. There are a lot of things we would change if we could go back in time with the same knowledge we have now in life. Perhaps I would tell myself to take better notes in public speaking class and save them for later, or I might tell myself to take more math classes. Perhaps I would've skipped ROTC altogether to allow for more electives or just a less-hectic schedule. Overall, though, I have no regrets about any one thing from my first semester of college. It was fun, and I met some of the best people I've ever known and strengthened friendships with some people I had already known. I suppose you're wondering what else I learned, and how I fared after winter break when I returned in the spring, eh? Well, you'll have to wait until next time for that, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I Learned: Part 1

This blog post is the first in a series where I go through my college transcripts, class-by-class, to determine what exactly it was that I spent six years learning. Come with me on this magical journey that might lead me to the promised land of employment and the American dream!

So the first section of my transcript for my undergraduate degree begins with transfer credits, of which I have three classes. Two of my classes are from taking AP English in high school and successfully passing the exams that culminated that class, and one is college credit earned from my U.S. Army basic training at Fort Knox.

ENG 101 — English Composition I (AP English language credit)
What can I say, I've been writing since I can remember. I put out my own newspaper to the family as a kid, and I worked for the newspaper at my middle school, high school and college. I have worked for various other publications, and I've been known to write a little fan fiction or (as if you didn't know this) blog from time to time. This class was a breeze, but it definitely gave me some additional needed foundations to become a good writer.

ENG 310 — Biography (AP English literature credit)
I'm not really sure why my literature section of AP English transferred over as "Biography" at Marshall. I read Catch 22, The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment and some Shakespeare, just to name a few. This was a very heavy course in terms of how much reading was assigned, especially for a high school class. Perhaps what this class really did was prepare me for much later down the road when I would read hundreds of pages each week in graduate school. Regardless, I really enjoyed this class, and I bet Biography would've been a lot more boring.

PE 1XX — Unclassified, Basic Training
Well, when your MOS (military occupational specialty) falls under what the Army calls "combat arms," your job doesn't really translate so well into the civilian (or academic) world. So my tank-driving skills didn't earn me any credits, nor did my various scouting skills or proficiency on multiple weapons systems. Instead, I got a whopping four credit hours of "unclassified" PE on my transcript. That's probably because the registrar wouldn't know how to classify the stuff I did at basic training even if she saw it — she could barely put the university seal on paperwork efficiently. Seriously, she once tried to tell me that the Financial Aid office was supposed to sign a blank that clearly had REGISTRAR written underneath it. Moral of the story is, joining the infantry, cavalry, armor, field artillery, etc., branches of the Army is a heckuva lot of fun when you're doing it, but it doesn't get you much when you get out except an obscure transfer credit and a paragraph of blog fodder.

Well, so far, I haven't found a whole lot that I learned from these courses. I know who Odysseus is, and I know to find a job with a civilian equivalent if I ever go back into the military. I'll get into the real meat and potatoes of my undergraduate transcript next time when we officially go back in time with freshman, first-semester-of-college Josh!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Game Analysis: Virginia Tech vs. Alabama 2009 Chik-fil-A College Kickoff

Note: My opinion of what might happen during this game has changed a bit since scrimmages have began and injuries have started to plague the Hokies. Check out a followup post I did as a guest blog post here.

It’s called the Chik-fil-A College Kickoff, but it’s not the first college football game of the season (those start Thursday, Sept, 3, 2009, not Sept. 5). Of course, that’s not keeping college football fans and analysts from eagerly awaiting what might be the most-exciting matchup of the season between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Virginia Tech Hokies. Both teams have found their ways into preseason top 10 rankings and have dark horse national championship whispers surrounding them, but everyone says the team that gains momentum with a win in Atlanta will be the one to watch. Well, luckily, we’re here to break the game down for you position-by-position to try to accurately predict a winner (or at least make a heckuva educated guess)! Let’s go:

History

Alabama (10) – Virginia Tech (1) since the teams first met in 1932.

Advantage: Crimson Tide.

Spring Game Impressions

A-Day Game, Crimson defeats White, 14-7
Maroon-White Game, Maroon defeats White, 13-7.

Advantage: Neither. Both teams are obviously defensively oriented. Virginia Tech just needs to find a reliable kicker for those elusive extra points.

Quarterback

Virginia Tech
Tyrod Taylor, a.k.a. “T-Mobile.” Junior. 2008 rating of 103.25. 1,963 career yards, 7 TDs. A running QB who got rid of his hitch in the offseason and needs to display more in the passing game. Injury-prone. An experienced starter with a BCS bowl win and two ACC championships under his belt.

Backup: Joseph Clayton, a.k.a. “Ju-Ju.” Freshman. Had a 56-yard pass to Ryan Williams in the spring game for a TD. Won out for the starting job over Marcus Davis. Had 1 INT, 1 fumble and went 4 of 15 in the spring game.

Alabama
Greg McElroy, Junior. 2008 rating of 178.47. 196 career yards, 2 TDs. Only playing time has come against Western Kentucky (4 of 6), Arkansas (0 of 1), Mississippi State (2 of 2), Auburn (2 of 2) and Western Carolina (8 of 9). McElroy has never had a rushing attempt.

Backup: Freshman Star Jackson, freshman A.J. McCarron or walk-on Thomas Darrah. Jackson and Darrah split time during the spring game, where Jackson threw two INTs and Darrah was only 8 of 22, and neither backup found the end zone. It’s looking like Jackson will be the man if the time comes, but the Tide had probably better hope the time doesn’t.

Advantage: Virginia Tech. The Hokies have a QB who is tested against big opponents, while Alabama’s QB has only taken a few snaps against some relatively easy defenses. As far as the backup situation goes, VT has only a slight edge — both teams could see their season end with the loss of the no. 1 guy under center.

Running Backs

Virginia Tech
The Hokies are loaded at the RB position with Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and Josh Oglesby among the guys from which to choose. Evans, in his freshman season last year, rushed for 1,265 yards and 11 TDs. The Hokies have never lost a game in which Evans has rushed for at least 78 yards. He broke a record with 253 yards rushing against Maryland last season. Ryan Williams almost hit the century mark during the spring game with 85 yards rushing (keep in mind spring game quarters are shorter). He also had that 56-yard screen pass reception for a TD, for a total of 66 yards receiving. While Oglesby might start anywhere else in the ACC, he’s still waiting his turn in Blacksburg.

Alabama
Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch, the Crimson Tide’s rushing leaders from last season were on the bench with injuries most of the spring, but there aren’t any indications they would stay there for the season opener in Atlanta. However, they’ve missed out on some valuable scrimmages. Because of those absences this spring, Terry Grant and Demetrius Goode tried rushing for the Crimson Tide, coming up with a total 34 yards rushing between them, but McElroy’s -30 yards rushing put the Crimson team a net total of 4 yards rushing. The White team netted only 37 yards rushing, but no notable RBs were the ones doing the scampering. Back to Ingram — he had 728 yards rushing and 12 TDs in his debut season. Upchurch had 350 yards rushing and 4 TDs last year to make his career yardage 624 and his career TD total 7.

Advantage: Virginia Tech. Alabama has some talented RBs in Ingram and Upchurch, but neither has the talent already showcased by the Hokies’ Darren Evans. In addition, Ryan Williams gained some valuable playing time this spring while Bama’s starters were on the bench. Oglesby could easily step in to fill VT’s RB role if needed, but the spring game showed that the Crimson Tide’s backups can’t do the same.

Wide Receivers

Virginia Tech
The Hokies' receiving corps was absolutely impotent last season, and while the group seems to have improved, it’s likely VT will stick to the rushing attack in order to open up for some play-action passing here and there, but don’t expect Taylor to try anything Big 12-ish out there with the aerial assault. The WR skill position is sort of jumbled, as there are plenty of guys who fans could see play this season. Dyrell Roberts will likely be the solid starter, but after that you could Xavier Boyce, Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, D.J. Coles, Tony Gregory or Patrick Terry in the rotation. The problem here is with experience. Though Alabama’s receivers will be young as well, they’ve played against tough SEC defenses and scored points. Roberts had only 227 yards receiving last year, and zilch in the TD category. Boykin fared a little better in his debut season last year with 441 yards receiving and 2 TDs. Coale racked up 408 yards with no TDs. Newcomer Logan Thomas is touted as an amazing athlete, but fans will have to wait and see where he fits in. Word is he's going to be groomed to eventually replace Boone at TE.

Alabama
Julio Jones is pretty much a household name among college football fans. Marquis Maze looks like a young Steve Smith with some of the catches he made in the spring game. Chris Jackson and Mike McCoy are likely the other players we will see in the rotation at WR for the Tide. Jones had 924 receiving yards for 4 TDs in his debut season and hopes to be a star for Alabama come September. Maze logged only 137 yards but had 2 TDs last year. Mike McCoy received 16 times for 191 yards and 1 TD last year, bringing his career to 398 receiving yards and 2 TDs.

Advantage: Alabama. Though the Crimson Tide are only slightly more experienced than the Hokies in the receiving corps, the possession of a standout like Julio Jones gives them an edge.

Tight End

Virginia Tech
Let’s start this off by saying Greg Boone is a beast. He split time this spring with Chris Drager, who seems to have been moved to defensive end for now, so the starting job seems to be Boone’s, as it should be. Boone is a physical player who is versatile and difficult to tackle. He was used last season in the Wild Turkey (think Wild Cat) formation with quite a bit of success. Andre Smith is also in the mix here, but he’s coming off an injury. Sam Wheeler might see playing time here, as he seems to have recovered from his knee injury. This is a pretty deep position, but expect Greg Boone to shine. He’ll be a leader as a senior who has 513 career yards and 3 TDs, 278 of those yards and 2 of those TDs coming off last season when he was relied upon heavily. His number might not get called a whole lot, but Boone will usually come through if needed. Newcomer Logan Thomas might see some reps here, but he'll probably start out at WR if he plays much this season at all. Eventually, though, the original plan is to get Thomas playing as a receiving TE.

Alabama
Alabama loses two senior tight ends and must rely on some new blood at this position. Colin Peek, Brad Smelley, Preston Dial and Michael Williams might all see some time at TE. Peek will be a senior with about half the yardage and TDs of VT’s Boone, and Dial doesn’t add much depth with only 29 careers yards in his stat book. The Crimson Tide will need to run plays that rely less on the TE if Smelley and Williams don’t step up to add some much-needed tight-end energy.

Advantage: Virginia Tech. There’s a reason the crowd sounds like it’s booing in Blacksburg when Boone comes into the game.

Offensive Line

Virginia Tech
The Hokies have some depth, talent and experience on the O-Line for the first time in years. Ed Wang comes in at LT, Sergio Render and Jaymes Brooks play as guards and Beau Warren looks to be the center for now. Richard Graham, Greg Nosal, Andrew Lanier and Michael Via will likely all see a rotation in at some point in the season. Expect Wang and Render to be the playmakers. Brooks is also getting a lot of hype, but his actual talent is yet to really be seen.

Alabama
James Carpenter is a newcomer, but solid, at LT. The rest of the O-Line looked very weak during the spring. The rest of the interior consists of players that really have yet to establish names for themselves. Senior Evan Cardwell might be the preferred man at center, as he has played in wins over SEC teams. Senior Drew Davis has proven he can block. Expect to see senior Mike Johnson at right tackle and/or right guard. He has quite a bit of experience, playing since his freshman season.

Advantage: Virginia Tech. Replacing talent like that of Andre Smith and several others is going to be tough on the Crimson Tide offensive line. VT has a lot more depth and skill on the line, which it will need against a hellacious Alabama defensive line. Alabama’s O-Line will be lucky to prevent sacks from Bud Foster’s defense, and they might just find themselves struggling against plenty of SEC opponents this season as well.

Defensive Line

Virginia Tech
Bud Foster is known for putting together top-10 defenses year after year. This year will be no different, especially up front with John Graves, Demetrius Taylor, Antoine Hopkins/Kwamaine Battle and Cordarrow Thompson on the line. Don’t forget about Jason Worilds at DE or Nekos Brown. You might see some of the following names in the rotation from time to time: James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Duan Peréz-Means, Isaiah Hamlette, Joe Jones or Steven Friday. The point is — Foster’s defensive line will provide the push the linebackers and safeties need, and there’s enough depth to keep that toughness going if an injury or two come along. Worilds, Thompson and Brown combined for 13 sacks last season.

Alabama
The Crimson Tide have three senior starters on the D-Line, and they seem to be capable of rushing the offense and/or coming away with sacks. However, of the returners here, no one really had an impressive season last year. The new guys are good enough, but so far the defensive line isn’t necessarily anything special. The real defensive skill is with the linebackers and defensive backs for the Tide. However, Brandon Deaderick should have a solid year as leaders on defense. Deaderick has a career 57 tackles.

Advantage: Neither. Both teams have some depth and experience on the D-Line. Though VT’s players have established hype around themselves a little better, that doesn’t mean Alabama’s defensive lineman aren’t just as worthy of praise. Both teams look more likely to rely on good play from the linebackers and defensive backs to bolster the defense. The Hokies’ lineman seem to be better at getting inside for sacks, but you have to keep in mind that they’ve been playing in the ACC, where the O-Lines of opposing teams haven’t necessarily been that great in the past couple of years.

Linebackers

Virginia Tech
What names should you expect to see at LB for the Hokies this season? How about these: Cody Grimm, Jake Johnson, Cam Martin and Barquell Rivers. There are a few others who might come into the mix, but these will likely be the ones getting their names called out on national television. Grimm has 97 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 2 INTs so far in Blacksburg. Cam Martin returns as a leader at LB as well, with 132 tackles, 5 forced fumbles and 1 INT.

Alabama
Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower combined for 11 tackles, an INT and 2 sacks — in the spring game. Senior Cory Reamer is also in the mix, along with Eryk Anders. Also expect to see Brandon Fanney, Jerrell Harris, Courtney Upshaw, Nico Johnson and Tana Patrick in the mix as needed. McClain has seen a career 165 tackles and 3 INTs. Hightower debuted last year with 62 tackles. Cory Reamer has 40 career tackles and 1 forced fumble. This group has a medium amount of experience and seems pretty talented. Word on the street is that Saban plans some major pass rushing this season.

Advantage: Virginia Tech. Foster’s linebackers are hard-hitters who force fumbles and come away with INTs. Alabama’s group has plenty of potential to do the same, but they will not be on quite the same level by September.

Secondary

Virginia Tech
Right now, the playmakers expected to appear in VT’s secondary are: Davon Morgan, Dorian Porch, Kam Chancellor, Eddie Whitley, Stephan Virgil, Rashad Carmichael. If Jacob Sykes and Cris Hill can hold on to catches and stop playing so inconsistently, their speed could propel them up the depth chart. Stephan Virgil is a mature CB with a career 63 tackles, 1 fumbles forced and a whopping 6 INTs, making him easily the most-talented player in the secondary for either VT or Alabama. Chancellor isn’t far behind with 139 tackles, 2 fumbles forced and 4 INTs during his career so far in Blacksburg. Everyone else is mostly untested and has yet to show what, if anything, they can contribute. Victor “Macho” Harris will be sorely missed in the VT secondary (and at WR and on special teams), but the Hokies have two guys who can step up this year.

Alabama
It looks like the secondary for the Crimson Tide will be under the command of sophomore Robby Green, who replaces Rashad Johnson, and Justin Woodall, a senior. There’s also the likes of Javier Arenas, Hampton Gray, Mark Holt, Kareem Jackson and Tyrone King. Green didn’t do a very good job covering his man in the spring game, and his INT came off another defensive player’s tipped pass. Woodall boasts a career 52 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 4 INTs, though. Arenas has come away with an INT as well and 78 tackles. Jackson is a talented young man who has 107 career tackles, 1 fumbles forced and 4 INTs on his record. The same can’t be said for King. What we seem to have here is a fairly mature group that hasn’t quite posted up the numbers you’d expect at this point in their careers, with Jackson and Woodall being the exceptions perhaps.

Advantage: Virginia Tech. The Hokies have two guys who are more talented than anyone else in the Crimson Tide secondary. Past that, the teams even out a bit with a lack of experience and some untested guys. This is probably just a slight edge, but it’s an edge that leans toward the Maroon and not the Crimson.

Special Teams

Virginia Tech
Dyrell Roberts did some KRs for the Hokies last season, 545 yards worth, that is. Of course, without Victor “Macho” Harris in the lineup, Frank Beamer might want to try out a few different players in this position. Newcomer Patrick Terry did OK in the spring game, and Kenny Lewis Jr. returned for 222 yards last season before getting injured. The fact is, the Hokies don’t have an Eddie Royal or even a Harris just yet for this position. The kicking game might continue to haunt the Hokies for a second straight season, as Justin Myer flubbed an extra point attempt in the spring game. There was also a missed FG attempt, and neither punter averaged 40 yards a punt. There was, however, a blocked punt in the spring game. Brent Bowden, the Hokies' punter, had a not-so-great season last year. He seems to stare a the ball for quite a long time before finally kicking it away. VT is going to need him to be more consistent this year. Matt Waldron, Tim Pisano, Chris Hazley and Cody Journell are all in the mix to do the non-punt kicking, but there's no experience or showcase of skill yet from any of these guys.

Alabama
Just like the Hokies, the Crimson Tide looked pitiful on special teams during their spring football game. Third-year starter Leigh Tiffin was 0 of 2 on field goals from 33 and 55 yards. Javier Arenas is a good returner, but punter P.J. Fitzgerald leaves a lot to be desired. There’s a lot need in terms of the kicking game, but Arenas chalked up 650 PR yards and 610 KR yards last season, with 3 TDs of PRs.

Advantage: Neither. Both teams need to find reliable place kickers and punters. The Crimson Tide have more firepower in the return game, both teams are about even in coverage, and the Hokies are always good to block a kick from time to time (they call it Beamerball, after the head coach who coaches the special teams himself). It’ll be about which team is most consistent and makes the fewest mistakes come September to determine who has the better special teams unit.

Final Word

This bring our analysis to 6-2-3 (advantages VT-advantages Alabama-advantages neither) in favor of the Hokies. If, however, Alabama gets all of those "neither" categories to shift in their direction, that makes it a 6-5 VT advantage, which is a slim margin, to say the least.
Looking at the position-by-position matchups, the Hokies should win this game, but a lucky call or a freak breakout kick return one way or the other could make the difference in this game that is likely to be a heckuva defensive battle. That’s why this will be an action-packed, hard-hitting, low-scoring game.

Prediction: 17-14 Virginia Tech

Monday, June 1, 2009

Revisiting Bud Foster's Restaurant

Almost a year ago, I visited the then-newly opened Bud Foster's Restaurant in Blacksburg, Va., named after Virginia Tech football's defensive coordinator. I decided to share my thoughts about the experience in this blog post.

If you don't feel like reading, I'll summarize it by saying me and several of my friends had been less than impressed with the restaurant, finding the atmosphere lacking, the service terrible, the menu limited and the food bland. The operator of the restaurant had contacted me about the post (probably because it's negative, and it shows up third in a Google search for the place), and I had promised to revisit when my life slowed down and do a new post. Well, now that I'm finished with grad school and had to run some errands in Blacksburg the other day, I decided to have lunch at BFR.

The first thing I'll give the place kudos for is finally getting a Web site. Being online in a college is town is a must for survival, as students are going to hop online and check out your menu and drink specials before they even bother heading to your restaurant — especially if it's not in the downtown strip of Main Street Blacksburg, which BFR is not.

BFR redid their menu in January of this year, five months after my blog post and after they received comments from several visitors, according to the About Us page on their site. Regarding that menu, it is less limited than it was before, allowing a bit more in the way of choices for customers. However, prices do seem to have gone up about $1 since the restaurant's opening (at least for the dish I ordered last time). Given the current state of the economy, I guess that's not bad, but the portions weren't really reflective of the prices before. I felt, however, that I got a pretty good value for my lunch of a Philly Cheese Chicken sandwich for $5.99 with fries and a pickle.

But what about the taste? Well, it really wasn't anything to write home about, but it certainly by no means was bad. The one complaint I had was that the bread on which the sandwich was made tasted a bit stale around the edges. There still seems to be a little problem with seasoning at BFR, as the chicken didn't seem to have any spices or marinated flavor to it. Which, maybe that wouldn't be traditional, but BFR really needs something to set itself apart from the rest of the sports bars in Blacksburg. Right now, it seems like they aren't willing to take that step to use unique flavors to do so, aside, that is, from having a dish like their white chicken chili. I really wanted to try that chili, but it was such a hot day when I dropped in for lunch.

As far as service goes, I had a very attractive and friendly young lady as my server who I can't complain one bit about. I did hear someone in the back yelling at her to hurry up and get drinks out to some customers, but I was catching up on some reading and didn't really notice.

The atmosphere of the restaurant doesn't seem to have changed any, so if you're interested in that, you can check out the old post. The only other thing I would mention is the host who greeted me as I came in the door. Talk about a way to make a first impression — this guy had a curly mustachey thing creeping up the side of his face and some tribal braided goatee to top it all off with his long hair. Not only was I creeped out, but I wanted to laugh at how ridiculous this guy looked (and at how naiive the management must be to think that someone like this would make a good first impression on customers in rural southwestern Virginia). Seriously, this Halloween costume almost represents what the guy looked like, but the costume is definitely cooler. Oh, here's where he got the goatee idea, I guess — I get it, he was a pirate! But Bud Foster's team isn't the pirates....

Overall, BFR has improved. Before, I would have given it a 4 out of 10. I'd say now the restaurant warrants a 6 out of 10. It's a nice little joint to stop by once in awhile to mix things up, but I doubt it'll be on anyone's favorites list in the NRV.