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One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Football and grades don't always mix

The NCAA released its Graduation Success Rate report Wednesday, and the results were not kind to state of Michigan schools.

Michigan had the highest score of all football programs in the state, but graduated just 71 percent of its players, tied for 78th out of 229 Division I and I-AA teams. Central Michigan and Western Michigan both had GSRs of 70 percent, while Eastern Michigan (55 percent) and Michigan State (45 percent) were among the bottom 80 schools nationally.

Boston College (96 percent) and Notre Dame (95 percent) had the best GSRs of all major programs. Northwestern (91 percent) and Penn State (80 percent) led the Big Ten.

The rate measures the percentage of graduates in a college sports program over a four-year period, with athletes given six years to graduate. The report includes the graduating classes of 1996-97 through 1999-2000. For MSU, that's the Nick Saban years - and it helps explain why school officials like president Lou Anna Simon and athletics director Ron Mason have been so quick to champion current coach John L. Smith's off-field successes.

Under Smith, the Spartans have received adequate Academic Progress Rate scores. The APR is a more current measure of a team's academic success, and was designed to gauge whether athletes stay enrolled and make progress towards their degree. Programs with poor APRs - scores below 925 - are at risk for scholarship reductions.

The Spartan football program scored a 907 in the latest APR report issued last February (for the 2003-04 and 04-05 academic years). That score is high enough to avoid sanctions when the numbers are adjusted for squad size. It's still well below the Division I football average of 930, but considering how bad the numbers were under Saban (and presumably Bobby Williams) it's a step in the right direction.

Michigan, by the way, registered a 952 APR, which places it in the 70-80th percentile of all football programs. Western Michigan (878) had one of the worst scores in Division I, Central Michigan (907) was on par with MSU, and Eastern Michigan (902) was in danger of sanctions.


Charlie Weis: Getting slappy

Charlie Weis is a brilliant football coach, one of the best offensive minds in the game. So it's disturbing to me the low he stooped to Saturday, apparently in an attempt to get a 15-yard penalty called on Michigan State.

In case you missed it, Weis emerged from a scrum along the Notre Dame sideline early in Saturday's second quarter to tell an official, "I got punched in the face." Several MSU players had crossed the Notre Dame sideline to check on their quarterback, Drew Stanton, who was knocked into the Irish bench. Pushing and shoving ensued, and eventually offsetting penalties were called.

It's quite possible MSU receiver Matt Trannon deserved a flag for something he did in the fracas, though nothing illegal appears on tape. Likewise, no one appears to come in contact with Weis, who said he was "slapped" after the game then kinda sorta recanted Sunday, saying, "Might have been one of my guys that slapped me for all I know."

Notre Dame, to no one's surprise, is playing the spin control game on Weis' behalf. I talked to senior associate athletics director John Heisler Monday and he said "Charlie kidded" about the incident after the game and never contended it was a Michigan State player in the first place. When asked what disciplinary action if any the two Notre Dame personnel directors would face for shoving MSU players off their sideline and, in one case, grabbing Trannon by the facemask, Heisler skirted the issue by saying this is "the first I heard of any of this." Right. And my wife's never told me to put the toilet seat down, either.

MSU forward footage of the incident to the Big Ten, where it's possible the officials who bought Weis' "cock-and-bull story" - that's according to MSU coach John L. Smith - will be admonished. But it's doubtful anything will happen to Weis and his assistants, who added another chapter to this bitter rivalry with their shameful actions Saturday.

A few other leftovers from the game:

- Former Spartan Bubba Smith has another recruiting tip for Michigan State, and I'll bet the Spartans take him up this time. The player is Smith's 13-year-old nephew, Dakota, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound eighth grader who wears a size 18 shoe. Three years ago, Smith came to MSU with a highlight tape of a neighbor who wanted to become a Spartan because "he saw all the stuff in my house," but was refused admittance to the press box. He stayed away until his number was retired Saturday. The player, Smith says, is now a receiver at USC.

- For all you "Police Academy" fans, Smith said three more installments are in the works. Next up is Police Academy 8 (I presume), which has not begun shooting yet. Smith said the original script, which called for the former cadets to run the academy now attended by their children, has been scrapped. Shaq was going to play Hightower's son, and Britney Spears was supposed to play another ex-cadet's daughter.


Sunday walk-through: Typical Spartans

Saturday's Michigan State-Notre Dame game wasn't five minutes old when I got my third voicemail message from a frustrated Spartan fan angry about his team's 40-37 loss.

He said a few choice words about coach John L. Smith and several MSU players, more than few more that I didn't understand because of his inebriated state, then signed off by saying, "Typical Spartans."

Unfortunately, that's the perception of Michigan State these days. A bumbling, mistake-prone group of outcasts with the talent to beat some of the nation's top teams, but not the heart or guile.

Saturday was memorable in many respects. Bubba Smith had his No. 95 jersey retired, many of his former teammates were on hand to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of "The Game of the Century," and 80,193 fans jammed into Spartan Stadium and sat through swirling winds and sideways rain to watch a game that captivated most of the nation.

But from MSU's standpoint, the night was eminently forgettable. The Spartans squandered a 16-point fourth-quarter with three turnovers in the final 6:10, and once again woke up Sunday with questions of how and why.

No matter whose feet you place the blame at - Smith for allowing MSU to get too conservative late, quarterback Drew Stanton for his turnovers, the offensive line for its rash of penalties - the reality is the Spartans are once again a fragile bunch approaching the crossroads of their season.

Last year, they started 4-0 but stinging losses to Michigan and Ohio State began a downward spiral that ended with six defeats in seven games. Next week is a chance to get healthy against Illinois, and MSU better take full advantage or it will be looking at a third straight year without a bowl bid - enough to make perception reality.

Pass, punt and kick

Pass: There are 19 undefeated teams left in Division I, including Purdue, which opened Big Ten play with a 27-21 win over Minnesota. The Boilermakers are well on their way to the postseason - they don't play Michigan or Ohio State this year - and things could get interesting if they win at Notre Dame next week.

Punt: Rather than pick on Northwestern or Indiana or Illinois again - easy targets all - how about Penn State's offense? (I think that's what it's called.) Six points and three turnovers Saturday against Ohio State, and stud sophomore Derrick Williams gets four touches? At least running back Tony Hunt (24 carries, 135 yards) looks like his old self again.

Kick: The big game next week pits the top-ranked Buckeyes against undefeated Iowa in a night game in Iowa City. Kinnick Stadium will be rocking, and the Hawkeyes might just stand the best chance of knocking off Ohio State this year. Troy Smith looked mostly human last week, and Iowa's Albert Young is just starting to catch stride.


Sanitation Saturday, Bubba Smith and other random thoughts

Emptying the playbook on a Thursday morning ...

n In case you missed it, Gordon Riese, the replay official who whiffed on the on-side kick call at the end of last week's Oklahoma-Oregon game, has been granted a leave of absence by the Pac-10 for the rest of the season. I have all the sympathy in the world for Riese, who did nothing to deserve the death threats he reportedly received after his ruling incorrectly upheld an on-field decision to award Oregon the ball. That said, I don't think Riese, 64 and a retired Pac-10 official, should return to the booth again. With so many camera angles and replays available, his negligence on the call is baffling. The ball was clearly and illegally touched by Oregon before it went 10 yards, and even it wasn't Oklahoma obviously recovered. I cut the on-field officials a bit more slack because of the speed of the game, but Riese and his partner, Roger Judd, should be held accountable for a decision that likely cost Oklahoma its chance at a BCS bid.

n I was asked Sunday how I as a top-25 voter view the game. Do I give Oklahoma credit for a win they should have had, or do I penalize the Sooners as I would any other loss? I moved Oregon up in my poll to 14 and dropped Oklahoma a few spots to 16. I didn't penalize the Sooners too heavily, but a loss in the record book is a loss in my eyes, too.

n With Separation Saturday in the books, we can all turn our attention to Sanitation Saturday. A week after seven top-25 teams squared off in a great day of college football, there's some real stinkers on the docket this weekend. Only two games involve two top-25 teams, and one of those - No. 24 Penn State at top-ranked Ohio State - features a 17-point spread.

n Fortunately, around these parts there's still plenty to be excited about. Michigan opens Big Ten play against Wisconsin and some people are incorrectly expecting a letdown. Across town at Michigan State there's Flag-gate, sniping between coaches, the top two NFL quarterback prospects and a 40-year anniversary to celebrate. Oh, and MSU and Notre Dame just may play some football, too.

n Speaking of the anniversary, it's good to see MSU back in the good graces with Bubba Smith. The legendary defensive end had a falling out with the school a few years back reportedly because he wasn't allowed in the press box without the proper credentials. MSU coach John L. Smith has extended a hand to many former players in recent years. Expect to see more numbers like Smith's 95 retired in coming seasons.


Flag-gate: The final word

It happened. I don't know if it was a spontaneous act of celebration as some Michigan State players contend or a vengeful "take that" copied off Notre Dame's antics the previous year. Whatever the case, Michigan State planted a flag at Notre Dame Stadium last year and it's time to get over it.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis rekindled Flag-gate last week after his Irish were beaten raw by Michigan, saying "there's one incident in particular that I'll use as motivation" for this Saturday's game against MSU.

Even if he hadn't, ABC, judging by its promos, would have made it a major deal of it, and all of us beat reporters would have followed suit with witty flag references tucked inside too many inches of copy. But you want to know the truth about Flag-gate? It really wasn't that big of a deal.

Michigan State scored the winning touchdown in overtime of last year's game to cap a dramatic finish, then went to its corner of the end zone and sang its fight song with its fans. On the way to the locker room, Eric Smith jabbed the flag into some turf near midfield and a few other Spartans danced around it in glee.

No Notre Dame player was there to defend the honor of the sacred ground that was violated by the flag plant, and no one made much noise about it until the next day, when footage of the hateful act began circulating on TV. Notre Dame players then said they didn't appreciate MSU's antics, and MSU said so what, we won.

Now, there are rumors that Weis told some of his boosters he'll make sure Notre Dame never loses to Michigan State again. Another big whoop in my opinion - what's he supposed to say, we'll be lucky to beat those guys? - but one MSU is using as counter bulletin-board material to offset any edge the Irish might have gained from the flag.

Weis denied making any such comments at his press conference Tuesday, saying he doesn't talk to anybody in the summer time except his wife.

"Here's what I think we have to do," Weis said. "We have to put the flag incident behind us because when you use something like the flag incident and try to use it as our motivation for the game, that lasts for about five minutes once the game starts. Once you start hitting each other in the mouth a few times in the game that stuff is over with. You can use all sorts of quotes and things on the board to get you through the week, but the bottom line is we need to play better and we need to play better than we did last week or we'll lose again this week."


Sunday walk-through: Assessing Michigan's title hopes

Rose Bowls are nice, but in today's college football world national championships are what matter. And at least for a week, Michigan is back in that discussion.

The Wolverines destroyed Notre Dame Saturday, relying on the one essential ingredient to success. Defense. They forced five turnovers, returned one interception for a touchdown, and foiled Brady Quinn's Heisman campaign with a knockout blend of high pressure and good luck.

If there's a reason to think Michigan can reach the first ever BCS National Championship game, defense is it. In many ways, this year's core is reminiscent of the 1997 brand that brought a title to Ann Arbor. It's nowhere near as good yet, but key pieces are in place across the board. Leon Hall is one of the best cornerbacks in college football, and LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch lead what might just be the best defensive front in the Big Ten. Toss in Mike Hart's ball control and the big-play ability of Mario Manningham and you have a contender.

Of course, it's a big leap from contender to champion, especially for a team whose recent history isn't that kind (7-5 last year) and one that didn't look particularly impressive in early-season victories over Vanderbilt and Eastern Michigan.

This week's game with Wisconsin is huge because of the let-down factor. Wisconsin is an average team that's played no one the first three weeks and has no real offensive weapons. But the Badgers always give Michigan fits. Survive that and the Wolverines can focus their energy on four late-season contests that will determine their season: Consecutive games against Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa in early October, and a trip to Ohio State Nov. 18. Everyone knows Lloyd Carr's history against Jim Tressel, and that three-game stretch is brutal, especially the Oct. 14 trip to Happy Valley where an 8 p.m. kick awaits a team coming off a game against its in-state rival.

It's too early to tell if Saturday's performance is a one-week wonder or a sign of things to come, but soon enough we'll find out.

Punt, pass and kick

Punt: The bottom of the Big Ten is terrible. Illinois is one of the 15 worst teams in Division I. Northwestern might not win another game all year. And Indiana became the second conference team to lose to a I-AA squad with Saturday's stumble at Southern Illinois.

Pass: Michigan had the most impressive win of the weekend, but you can't help marvel at Ohio State. The top-ranked Buckeyes got off to an understandably slow start in their 37-7 win over Cincinnati - they were emotionally drained after a huge victory over Texas last week - then rolled off 34 straight points for the win.

Kick: Penn State-Ohio State is the marquee game next Saturday, but I'll be keeping close tabs on Minnesota at Purdue. Neither team has been terribly impressive the first three weeks, but at least one - maybe Saturday's winner - will make a bowl.


Random thoughts

Three random thoughts entering Week 3 of the college football season:

1. If you missed my Big Ten column that ran in our paper Wednesday, I spoke with Herman Matthews, the mathematician who publishes the Matthews/Scripps computer rankings that were formerly used by the BCS. Matthews had 1-AA New Hampshire ranked sixth in his poll this week, and even he agrees that's laughable. Fact is, it's so early these polls are easily sewed by one big win, especially if it comes on the road.

The AP poll, which I vote in, is often guilty of the same crime. I got an email Sunday asking why I didn't move Ohio State up to No. 1 in my poll (I have the Buckeyes third, behind USC and Auburn) after its big win at Texas. One, because I still believe USC will win the national title. And two, because I can't shake up my entire poll every week. If LSU wins at Auburn this week, do I make the Tigers No. 1? I think LSU is a better team right now than Texas, and I've had Auburn ranked ahead of OSU all year.

Just like with Matthews' poll, our more subjective rankings will play themselves out. USC was mighty impressive in Week 1 at Arkansas, and the Trojans play a pretty good Nebraska team this week. If they struggle, I'll re-evaluate where I rate them then.

2. Matthews, by the way, has picked the straight-up winner in 82 percent of the college football games played this year. That's a pretty remarkable number - I challenge you to do better if you think you can. Why do you care? Well, if you're a Michigan of Michigan State fan you should know his formula predicts wins by Notre Dame and Pitt this week, and by rather large margins.

3. I'm convinced Temple coach Al Golden is crazy because, well, he took the Temple job. Golden is a bright, young coach, a man who played under Joe Paterno and spent five years as defensive coordinator at Virginia. Surely, he could have waited for a better job, but he was itching to get his start so he signed on with the worst program in Division I. In some ways it's a no-lose situation. No one really expects Temple to turn around. But I had the occasion to chat with Golden at MAC media day back in July, and he sincerely believes he can build a winner. Like I said, I believe he's crazy, and I also believe Minnesota will rush for 350 yards against his Owls this week.

4. One extra thought for good measure. Keep Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner in your prayers this week. Hoeppner underwent brain surgery the other day for the second time in a year. There's lots of speculation around Bloomington about what exactly ails Hoeppner, but no official word. Regardless, one of the more likeable coaches in the Big Ten deserves better fate and a full and speedy recovery.


NFL replay could learn a lesson from NCAA

I watched a little bit of last Thursday's Dolphins-Steelers NFL opener and I walked away thinking just how right the NCAA got its instant replay rule.

In case you missed it, the NCAA approved instant replay across all games (at least those with the requisite number of television cameras) this year. The system is just like the one the Big Ten started a few seasons back, with an official in the booth reviewing every play on the field. If there's a question, he buzzes an on-field official and play stops momentarily while he takes a longer look at it. The NCAA also added a provision for coaches to challenge one call per game.

In the Miami-Pittsburgh game, the Steelers scored a late touchdown that Dolphins coach Nick Saban tried unsuccessfully to challenge. He red-flagged the play, but officials didn't see it in time and the touchdown stood, though Steelers tight end Heath Miller was obviously out of bounds around the 3-yard line.

You can blame Saban for not throwing the flag fast enough or his assistants in the booth for not relaying what they saw in a timely fashion, but the real party at fault is the NFL. How a billion-dollar league can have such an incomplete replay system is baffling.

The NCAA's rule is not perfect. With human error and bodies flying around at 100 miles an hour, nothing ever will be. But if the league's intent is to get the call correct, putting more of the onus on an off-field official is the right thing to do.


Sunday walk-through: Big Ten has big questions

After watching Penn State get destroyed by Notre Dame on Showdown Saturday, I'm left wondering just how good the Nittany Lions � and the rest of the Big Ten � really are.

Penn State was supposed to contend for a league championship this year, but looked lost on offense and a step slow on defense Saturday. The Lions had three turnovers and no answer for Irish QB Brady Quinn. They trailed 20-0 at halftime and 41-3 late before a couple of inconsequential touchdowns.

I dropped Penn State out of my top 25 (I ranked them 21st to start the year, so it's not a huge drop) but I believe they'll be back by mid-October. Why the optimism? Mostly because the rest of the Big Ten has been average at best these first two weeks.

Ohio State is obviously the class of the league. The Buckeyes won at Texas Saturday and did it in impressive fashion. They're two-deep on both sides of the ball, and Troy Smith is now the front-runner for the Heisman.

But no one else in the Big Ten appears BCS-worthy. Iowa barely beat a bad Syracuse team Saturday. I know the Hawkeyes were without starting quarterback Drew Tate, but they didn't look too hot against Montana in Week 1 either. Michigan could win 10 games, or get dusted by Notre Dame itself. And Purdue (injuries), Michigan State (inconsistency) and Wisconsin (play someone with a pulse, please) all leave plenty to be desired.

With an entirely new secondary and an inexperienced but talented quarterback, Penn State has the most room for improvement in that group. That's why I'm still predicting a 9-3 record for the Lions, who need another blue-chip recruiting haul before their makeover is complete.

Punt, pass and kick

Punt: Northwestern joined the list of major-conference teams falling to I-AA opponents with its disturbing 34-17 loss to New Hampshire. I figured the Wildcats would be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten this year, then after a 21-3 opening-week win over Miami I thought I underestimated them. I didn't. They're brutal.

Pass: James Laurinaitis was the defensive star of Ohio State's 24-7 win over Texas. The sophomore linebacker forced a goal-line fumble and intercepted a pass as the Buckeyes handed the Longhorns a Texas-sized whoopin' in Austin.

Kick: They won't get as much play as the Ohio State-Texas and Penn State-Notre Dame tilts, but both Michigan and Michigan State have season-defining games this week. The Wolverines, losers of six straight road openers, play Notre Dame in South Bend, while MSU travels to Pitt after gimme games against Idaho and Eastern Michigan.


DeBord gets revenge on CMU

Three sneaky suspicions about Week 2 of the college football season:

1. Michigan will put some hurt on Central Michigan. Lloyd Carr is not the type of coach who runs up points on feeble opponents to impress poll voters, but I get the impression he doesn't forgive and forget easily, either. That's why I have no doubt the Wolverines will beat CMU by at least four touchdowns. Carr's confidant and offensive coordinator, Mike DeBord, spent four seasons pacing the sidelines in Mount Pleasant before he was fired in 2003. The firing was justified - DeBord went 12-34 overall and won just 22 percent of his MAC games - but that doesn't mean it sits well with those closest to DeBord. With Notre Dame up next, Michigan has a lot of offensive wrinkles to iron out (wink, wink) and DeBord's play calling will get it done.

2. Javon Ringer will rush for 140 yards for MSU. Ringer had an average opening game against Idaho. He carried 16 times for 70 yards (just 4.4 a pop) and scored one touchdown on a goal-line option play. EMU got torched through the air last week, but the Eagles have one of the worst run defenses in the MAC (198.7 ypg allowed last year) and MSU will exploit it Saturday. Expect Ringer to break a couple long runs, and MSU to save the bulk of its passing playbook for next week's huge game at Pitt.

3. Big Ten teams will split their two showcase games Saturday with Ohio State winning at Texas and Penn State losing at Notre Dame. OSU has the most to gain with a strong performance. The Buckeyes can justify their No. 1 ranking, avenge last year's home defeat to the Longhorns, and Troy Smith can establish himself as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy with a good day. It'll happen against a Texas defense still reeling from the loss of cornerback Tarell Brown. Buckeyes 24, Longhorns 17. Notre Dame will make amends for its shoddy performance last week against a Georgia Tech team that is better than people think. The Irish, still winning with defense, take a no-frills 26-14 decision.


New rules mean less fun

College football fans and coaches have railed against the new rule changes that served their purpose in Week 1 and shortened games by an average of 17 minutes. Network television executives were no doubt dancing in their top-floor offices at the results.

But the real loser in this whole clock conundrum is the players, specifically those second- and third-stringers who saw their playing time lopped in half (or eliminated all together) because of a few suits' desire to fit NCAA games into a three-hour viewing window.

In case you missed my column last month or the many others that have been written on the subject, the NCAA changed its rules earlier this year to start the playing clock on kickoffs (instead of returns) and once the ball is spotted on the first play of a series (instead of the snap). The rules were instituted without the support of the American Football Coaches Association, presumably because they would have suggested cutting into commercial time instead and that just wouldn't be right.

Well, the new rules worked. According to USA Today, opening games this year averaged 13 fewer plays, 4.5 fewer points and 101 fewer yards than a season ago. They also resulted in one unintended and unhealthy change. With fewer plays to go around and smaller leads to hold, coaches were more apt to stick with their starters late in games.

As empirical data I can only offer common sense and a few snippets from around the Big Ten. Michigan State did not play a backup offensive lineman one single snap in its 27-17 win over Idaho. Purdue left star receiver Dorien Bryant in the game in the fourth quarter of a 60-35 blowout of Indiana State. And Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco, a month removed from knee surgery, took every snap of a 35-14 win over Bowling Green.

This isn't t-ball where mommy pays $125 and everyone is guaranteed three innings and a T-shirt, but early-season games are the time to experiment, to get your two-deep ready for the rigors of a season. I saw less of that last weekend, and I suspect - like the unfortunate rules themselves - that's here to stay.


Sunday walk-through: Pigskin and Pepto

If you spent your weekend devouring all the Big Ten football you could find, you're probably waking up this morning with an uncomfortable knot in your stomach. Michigan State struggled to get past Idaho, Michigan looked uninterested against Vanderbilt, and Iowa and Purdue had issues with Division I-AA teams Montana and Indiana State before pulling away late. Well, put down the Pepto cause everything will be all right.

It's our nature to overanalyze everything our favorite (or least favorite) teams do, and especially after Week 1 - when there's only one performance in the dossier - that analysis can lead to dangerous conclusions. Sure, there were some danger signs. I mean, Purdue leading the mighty Sycamores by five at halftime? But most Big Ten teams got out of Week 1 what it was worth - an easy victory that left plenty to build on.

Among the bright spots: MSU found a defensive star in Otis Wiley (and the secondary breaths a sigh of relief); Michigan has committed to a more aggressive defense (you don't think they showed everything with Notre Dame in two weeks, do you?); Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter is a stud (or better than Brandon Kirsch, at least); and Iowa has a pretty good core (one that'll get even better when starters Herb Grigsby, Ken Iwebema and Kyle Schlicher return).

And to show how just how insignificant Week 1 can be, the happiest Big Ten team of all was probably Minnesota, which found a solution to its questionable running back depth in converted linebacker Alex Daniels. The Gophers looked great and Daniels ran great against Kent State, but they're headed into a literal Bears den next week when they play at California, a team that was drilled by Tennessee and really has a lot to prove in Week 2.

Punt, pass and kick: Punt: Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly sure made a couple goofy coaching decisions in Thursday's loss to Boston College. That ill-conceived trick play late got a lot of TV time, but the real stinker was the botched fourth-down play late in the first half.

Pass: Daniels gets this week's game ball for his 155-yard, three-touchdown debut at running back. Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito jokingly called Daniels "Laurence Maroney" after the game, but Kent State defenders weren't laughing when they were getting trucked by the 6-foot-3, 255-pound bull.

Kick: There's two great games on the docket next week. Ohio State's trip to Texas could be a 1-2 showdown, and Penn State travels to South Bend to face a Notre Dame team that, get this, won with defense. Rest up cause it'll be another great Saturday.