Friday Q&A: Darnold vs. Jackson, Love for Oregon State and Jay-Z


Welcome to a very self-referential edition of The Open Man Weekend Q&A! Not to worry: The self-reference isn’t a series of recurring inside jokes. There are other outlets that can cover that.

No, this brand of self-reference touches on a variety of columns I have written this summer. What’s surprising is how organically this opportunity to expound on some thoughts came. Truly, a credit to The Open Man readership.

Give yourself a bow. C’mon, you’ve earned it!

If you’d like to participate in Weekend Q&A, just shoot a tweet @kensing45 or @the_open_man. You can also email

Since we’re referencing past work heavily in this edition of Q&A, figure it’s best to go to the most recent piece: my ode to the history of the Great Alaska Shootout. I scratched the surface of the tournament’s significance without getting too deep into specifics, but have the opportunity to touch on greater detail here.

3. New Mexico State beats former head coach Lou Henson and Illinois in 1992

Thanksgiving weekends in the Kensing household were often planned, at least in part, on the schedules of the NIT, Maui Invitational and Great Alaska Shootout. I was just a fourth grader for this edition of the Shootout, but the basketball bug had already bitten me, and I was glued to ESPN to catch as much college basketball as possible.

It’s a love affair that began a few years earlier, when my dad allowed me to stay up past my bedtime for Big Monday games — many of which involved teams out of the Big West. Those who either weren’t around or weren’t paying attention then don’t understand just how awesome those late-night (tipoff was 10 p.m. MT) Big Mondays were, nor just how good the Big West Conference was at the time.

UNLV was at the pinnacle of college basketball, sure, but the Big West routinely sent three or more teams to the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico State was a regular Big Dancer at this time, including making a Round of 32 run in this, the 1992-93 season.

The Aggies’ success in the late ’80s, early ’90s never quite matched the heights reached in the early 1970s, however, when legendary head coach Lou Henson coached NMSU to the Final Four. Henson enjoyed two successful stints in Las Cruces, book-ending a run at Illinois that included another Final Four.

Henson was at Illinois in ’92-’93, and who did his Illini happen to run up against in the Great Alaska Shootout but New Mexico State?

Neil McCarthy’s Aggies played an uptempo brand of basketball that was commonplace in the Big West at the time — credit Jerry Tarkanian for making that the standard — and they dropped 99 on Illinois that night in Anchorage.

2. Dwyane Wade leads Marquette over Gonzaga in 2001

I was in my first semester at college in the autumn of 2001. It was a chaotic time for all the usual reasons, but I had the added tumult of having been in a severe car accident that October. I was driving a Mazda 626 I’d only had for three weeks when I was T-boned by a Ford Explorer.

Before Thanksgiving, the weekend of the accident — which I was legally found to be at fault — was the last time I saw my parents. Reconnecting over happier terms felt good; so did watching a nationally ranked Gonzaga lose alongside my dad, an ardent Zag-basher.

That Gonzaga team was the best during the program’s initial run of success, despite losing in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament to Wyoming. The Zags went on a very long winning streak after the Shootout, climbing into the Top 10 of the AP Poll behind All-American guard Dan Dickau.

In Alaska, however, Dickau got outplayed by some guy named Dwyane Wade. This was my first real introduction to the Marquette guard.

1. Cincinnati over Duke in 1998

I am a sports media professional, and as such, strive to uphold impartiality at all times. That said? To hell with Duke basketball.

I’m a basketball fan first and foremost, and as such, it’s my duty to hate Duke. Take it as a compliment, Dukies: This obligation all other college basketball fans feel to detesting everything about your program puts you in league with such name-brand teams as the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, these days I’m able to overcome the envy and anger Duke engenders so effectively — but not as a high schooler. Not at all. 1998 approached the peak of my Duke hatred, so imagine that fun I had watching what would become arguably the best team Mike Krzyzyewski coached not to win a national championship lose to Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati squad.

This was an excellent game featuring plenty of big-time players, including Elton Brand and Kenyon Martin on opposing low-blocks. The Bearcats survived a 77-75 slug fest. Much like Dwyane Wade a few years later, the Great Alaska Shootout provided me my first exposure to Martin on this night in 1998.

Earlier this offseason, I noted how far Lamar Jackson flew under the radar, given the emphatic manner in which he won the Heisman with more than 600 points separating him from Deshaun Watson.

It’s rather remarkable for a returning winner to be so far in the background, but Jackson’s truly felt like an afterthought — so much so that were I to update the Heisman Top 10 ahead of Week 1, he probably wouldn’t check in at No. 2.

While I think it’s a little ridiculous how quickly he’s been dismissed, primarily in favor of USC’s Sam Darnold, I don’t necessarily believe the sudden shift in focus to Darnold is wholly unjustified.

Offseason expectations are often set by the most fresh memories college football punditry takes from the prior season. Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals dropped their final three games — two by more than 20 points, and the third to a defensively porous Kentucky bunch.

Jackson himself was not spectacular in the losses, particularly against Houston and LSU; though he did also throw three interceptions against Kentucky.

The offensive anemia suffered against Houston and LSU weren’t entirely on Jackson — or even primarily on the quarterback. Both Houston and LSU came at Louisville with aggressive blitzes, exposing bad deficiencies in the Cardinal offensive line.

Until those issues are addressed, it’s difficult envisioning Jackson recreating the magic of last season’s first two months.

Conversely, Sam Darnold hit his stride late in the season. His best work came at the tail-end of the campaign — in particular, a record-setting performance at one of the best (but not THE best) Rose Bowl Games ever played.

While the hype train on Darnold may be somewhat out of control, there’s at least rationale behind it. Darnold will have some questions of his own to answer: How will he respond to defenses now having a year of film on him? Will he establish rapport with a mostly new-look group of receivers? How will his protection be without Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner?

Still, Darnold’s uncertainties seem less pronounced than Jackson’s — at this juncture, at least.

Oregon State going bowling; just inherently, given all the Beavers must do is finish 6-6; maybe 7-5 if the field of postseason contenders is crowded, but .500 would likely do the trick.

I like Oregon State to knock out half of its necessary wins before it ever has to play a Pac-12 game. The Beavers should face little resistance from Portland State; I like them to make up the one-possession difference that separated them from Minnesota a season ago now that they get the Golden Gophers in Reser Stadium; and, yes, I’m tabbing Oregon State for a Week 0 win at Colorado State.

Now, Oregon State beating Colorado State has no bearing on the Rams’ prospects for a Mountain West championship. However, the non-conference schedule as a whole concerns me.

There’s a very real possibility Colorado State opens MWC play 1-3, drawing Colorado on a neutral field in Week 1 and traveling to Alabama Week 3. CSU administration was brilliant to move the Oregon State date to Week 0, giving the Rams a bye week after going to Tuscaloosa.

Nevertheless, opponents of Alabama suffer from a body-blow syndrome. The Tide’s ability to physical opponents can take its toll, and being banged up isn’t ideal before making the long trek to Hawaii.

To that end, I don’t think it out of the realm of possibility CSU is 1-4 before ever facing a divisional opponent. And among its divisional opponents, defending Mountain champion Wyoming and overachieving New Mexico are both road games.

Preseason favorite Boise State has to visit Fort Collins, but the Broncos get both Wyoming and New Mexico at home.

Despite it being an early-season non-conference date, I put considerable stock in the Oregon State game; frankly, I just like the Beavers to set CSU off on the wrong foot.

This provides a nice segue into the next question:

If you haven’t read it — and why the hell not?! — I wrote on Oregon State having similar potential this year as Colorado last year.

The Pac-12 North is much tougher top-to-bottom, but especially up top, so Oregon State matching Colorado’s run to 10 games and a divisional crown is highly unlikely. Still, I like the Beavers to get to eight wins and finish perhaps as high as third in the North.

My faith in Oregon State starts with head coach Gary Andersen. Having followed the turnaround he engineered in short order at Utah State, I appreciate Andersen’s ability to implement imposing defense, multifaceted offense and discipline.

He maintained the high standard set at Wisconsin with the same approach, and the first indicators Oregon State was taking to his philosophy surfaced a season ago. The Beavers were close in a number of losses, against quality opponents like Minnesota and Utah. With more maturity and experience — which the Beavers have, returning one of the most veteran lineups in the Pac-12 — those close losses turn into close wins.

Of course, it takes more than simple experience and familiarity of scheme to flourish; a team needs talent, which Oregon State has. Ryan Nall is one of the best running backs in the nation, someone I believe is poised for a 1,500-plus-yard kind of season.

Alleviating pressure on him with a more productive passing game is essential, and the addition of Jake Luton at quarterback gives Oregon State the most positive outlook its had at the position since Sean Manning graduated.

The defense has the kind of workmanlike identity past Andersen teams have relied on for success, particularly in the linebacker corps. There aren’t necessarily stars in that unit, but there are enough difference-makers for Oregon State set a physical tone.

Ah, yes. Let’s take it back to a simpler time, when Raunchy Teen Comedies owned the box office, and sugary malt beverages were the go-to for college freshmen with fake IDs.

Operating without the benefit of hindsight, which would mean acknowledging some of my musical tastes at the turn of the millennium were suspect, the perfect concert lineup would have looked something like the following. I’m going to keep the bill to five acts, allotting a good hour for the headliner and 30-to-45 minutes for the opening acts.

Jay-Z: Ever since watching Notorious B.I.G. perform on an edition of “The Grind” at MTV Spring Break in 1995, I’ve had a fondness for New York hip-hop. Not long after, I became a Columbia House member — against my dad’s suggestion — and was the owner of Jay-Z’s debut album, “Reasonable Doubt.”

I’m not the Jay-Z fan now that I was in 2001, but there may not be a stretch of consecutive albums I enjoyed as much during their initial release as I did Hov’s from “Reasonable Doubt” through “Roc La Familia.”

New Found Glory: I’d venture to guess 90 percent of suburban teenagers at the turn of the millennium went through a pop-punk phase. I was all-in on that era, filling up my Kazaa account with as much as I could get.

Of those acts, the one I most enjoyed was New Found Glory. I had the lyrics to just about every track off of “Stick and Stones” memorized shortly after purchasing in the summer of 2002.

Less Than Jake: I was somewhat late to the pop-punk phase, at least in comparison to my high school peers. I was still completely in on hip-hop until some point in 2000, when Less Than Jake was *huge* among the kids at my school.

Less Than Jake isn’t technically pop-punk, but rather ska; nevertheless, it was under the same umbrella. It was also one of my gateways into the genre, thanks to “Hello Rockview!” I still listen to their 2000 album, “Borders and Boundaries,” with regularity.

Snoop Dogg: My first introduction to hip-hop came in the early 1990s. My dad was a high school basketball and would often bring me on road trips. His players occasionally let me sit in the back of the bus to join in card games and listen to their music. In 1993-94, “Doggystyle” was the most popular album by far.

It’s still a classic of the genre, but by the time the millennium approached, I was still very much into the Doggfather thanks to 2001’s “Last Meal.”

All these years later, I would still rank “Last Meal” second behind only the original Snoop Dogg album.

Linkin Park: As you may have gleaned from the above, hip-hop and pop-punk were my music of choice circa 2000-to-2003. Linkin Park covered both bases, but added its own spin to the music.

There was plenty of rap-rock prevalent in this era, some of which I listened to at that time, embarrassing as it is to reveal (Limp Bizkit). Some I can proudly say I hated, even as a goofy teeanger (Kid Rock has ALWAYS sucked).

My favorite, and the only act from the rap-rock genre that still really holds up today, is Linkin Park. “Hybrid Theory” was blasting out of the speakers of my Chevy Corisca throughout the summer of 2001.

As for current concert lineup? I’m too old for concerts these days.