Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: J. Burton presents a dream interview

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you by Jeff Burton: NASCAR's renaissance man.

Q: What, is he playing the violin now or something?

A: Nah, not that. But boy, that guy can handle a press conference. For every question thrown his way Friday at Martinsville Speedway, Burton gave -- or at least attempted to give -- a thoughtful, insightful answer. He's always been like that. He talked about the Kasey Kahne-Richard Petty Motorsports split. He talked about crew members getting a shot to be honorary starters. He talked about Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. And, of course, he talked in depth about his own season.

Q: So you're saying he's the perfect interview subject?

A: Close. Give him Ward's accent and we're golden.

Q: Who wins Sunday's Sprint Cup race?

A: Jeff Gordon.

Q: Both Virginia Tech and Virginia are heavy favorites in home games today. Which presumed blowout will be closer: Hokies-Duke or Wahoos-Eastern Michigan?

A: This answer may surprise a bit, but I'm going to go Tech-Duke. Give the Devils their due -- or at least give some credit to their quarterback, Sean Renfree. The sophomore ranks second in the ACC in passing yards per game, behind N.C. State's Russell Wilson. We saw what Wilson did against Tech. It'd be a good week for the Hokies' defense to emerge and show that it's ready for a rugged November.

Q: Sounds like tailback Ryan Williams will play. Why not just let him rest that hamstring a little longer save him for Georgia Tech?

A: Tech's trying to get him back in rhythm. Still, I think you treat him like backup QB Logan Thomas: If you can get him a little non-pressure work, do it. But there's no need to force it.

Q: Two teams in the top six of the BCS standings face difficult road tests today against unbeaten opponents. Who's more likely to go down: LSU or Oklahoma?

A: I think they both lose, actually. But to answer your question, it's LSU. The Tigers have a strong defense, but there are only so many times you can escape before you'll get caught. Auburn gets it done at home. The Sooners face a different challenge: stopping Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the nation's 81st-ranked passing defense. Watch for the mild upset there.

Q: Will the NFL look different on Sunday now that the hits policy is being enforced more stringently?

A: Can't imagine it will. The league is doing what it has to do -- covering its own tail -- but I'm guessing that officials find a lot of "mitigating circumstances" when it comes time to levy suspensions. The big hits aren't going anywhere.

Q: The ACC men's basketball preseason poll was released this week, with the Hokies checking in at No. 2 behind Duke. They're also ranked (at No. 23) in the preseason USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll for the first time since 1995. How cool is that?

A: It's cool, but you've got to wonder how they're going to handle the expectations. The Tech basketball team is a lot like the Tech football team: The Hokies seem to play better when they're underdogs. They win a lot of games with defense, which is fueled by hustle and desire and focus and all those little things that come when you feel you've got something to prove. If they lose a game they shouldn't in November or December, that might not be a bad thing this year. They'll need to keep their edge.

Q: So how did your 5 Million Star Lock of the Eon turn out last week?

A: I'm going to let the master handle that one. Mr. Burton?

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