Saturday, November 11, 2006

CFB Saturday Live-Comment Tailgate!
(Updated with post-Florida win BCS talk)

It's Gameday. Use the Comments section to break down all the action througout the day. I'm having one of those classic "Picture-in-Picture" afternoons: Ohio St at Northwestern at 3:30 on ABC, South Carolina at Florida at 3:30 on CBS. All I ask is that NU keeps it remotely competitive -- an Illinois-like showing would be fine -- and that Florida play pinball with the BCS formula by putting an old-school Spurrier-style run-up on new-school Spurrier's Gamecocks. (Also closely monitoring: Oregon at USC, Tennessee at Arkansas, Texas at Kansas St.) Have at it and enjoy the day. More later, hopefully. -- D.S.

Update (7:12 p.m.): OK, OK: So Florida's win was the antithesis of what appears to be this weekend's catchphrase "style points." But when you're at the top, a win's a win, in terms of keeping you alive for another week to actually look good while winning. I remember Ohio State in 2002; they won a national title going 13-0, mostly on the backs of not winning games particularly pretty.

But I digress. Here's how I'd caveat the previous paragraph: Based on the way they played -- which is to say, pretty badly, aside from some clutch play by the defensive field goal and XP unit -- Florida doesn't DESERVE to be the team that plays the winner of OSU-Michigan. Texas is better, and that makes the argument for any other team irrelevant. (That means you: USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Rutgers.) More on this on Sunday a.m. Texas! Yikes! Sorry, 'Horns.

Now, I should provide a second caveat: FOR NOW. The Gators have three weeks to...well...prove they deserve it. I don't care if the BCS formula spits them out as No. 3 this week, which it might. You can't tell fans to disbelieve their own eyes.

*They can stomp Western Carolina next week and they'll probably LOSE ground to Texas in the BCS formula, because WCU ain't exactly a strength-of-schedule helper. But they can at least show that their offense isn't an impotent joke.

*They can beat a decent -- though not even close to good -- Florida State team and earn points for winning in Tallahassee against a bowl team. Not bad, but not great. Certainly as good as Texas beating Texas A&M.

*And they can beat a 1-loss, 2-loss or -- god forbid -- 3-loss Arkansas team in the SEC title game and win the toughest conference in college football. The degree to which that matters depends on the quality of the team they beat. I'll make it simple: That Arkansas team has to be better than whatever team Texas beats in the Big 12 title game.

Now, that entire argument is predicated on Florida actually winning these next three games. And, if you watched this dud today, that's by no means a guarantee. But if they keep winning -- with grit or with "style," with luck or with talent -- they'll remain in the argument. We're in "survive and advance" mode now, folks. Isn't parity great? Cripes...

-- D.S.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Week in Review:
Rutgers, Britney, Lance, More

Haven't done this in a while...

10. Nick Novak: Second chances rule
9. Lance Armstrong: Run, Lance, run!
8. Colts: Assume the position (No. 1)
7. Britney Spears: On the market!
6. LeBron James: Leaving so soon?
5. Joe Paterno: C'mon, he's a grown man!
4. Daisuki Matsuzaka: Land of "Rising Sox?"
3. Heath Shuler: From DC dud to DC stud
2. Dolphins: Shock the Bears in Chicago
1. Rutgers: Okay, MAYBE No. 3...

R.I.P.: Bryan Pata, Johnny Sain

Have a great weekend. See you here over both days for our weekly college football and NFL live-comment "tailgates."

- D.S.

Matsuzaka to Red Sox for $38-45M Bid?

Did the Red Sox win the bidding for the rights to try to sign top-line import starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka? Rumor has it their bid -- again, this was the payment simply to get the rights to try to sign him -- was between $38-45 million.

Given the way Theo appreciates quantitative valuation methods, that would be a hell of an affirmation of his value. But then again: What price for a No. 1 starter for a team that missed the playoffs last season -- not to mention the defensive move of keeping him away from the Yankees?

(Speaking of the Yankees, they traded Sheffield to the Tigers for three pitchers that aren't part of last year's core. Who else thinks Sheff has a better chance of reaching the World Series faster as part of his new team than he would be remaining on the old team?)

The Hot Stove Season has officially begun.

NFL Week 10 Preview and Picks

Friday A.M. Quickie here.
My Rutgers freak-out here.

No more bye weeks
means a few more chances per week to build on my atrocious picks record this season. Of most intrigue this week? Chargers/Bengals, Chiefs/Dolphins, Saints/Steelers and -- perhaps determining NFC HFA in the playoffs -- Bears/Giants.

Falcons over Browns
: Cure for what ails 'em
Chargers over Bengals
: Cincy fall-off cont'd
Lions over 49ers
: Worst Game of the Week
Ravens over Titans
: VY, meet Ray-Ray
Colts over Bills
: More unbeaten goodness
Dolphins over Chiefs
: Second-half surge?
Vikings over Packers
: Favre INT march cont'd
Pats over Jets
: Beli hates Mangini?
Eagles over Skins
: Skins used up all mojo in W9
Jags over Texans
: Garrard maintains mo'
Broncos over Raiders
: Brady Quinn Watch
Cowboys over Cards
: No napping from T.O.
Saints over Steelers
: "Steelenfreude?"
Seahawks over Rams
: St. Louis reeling
Bears over Giants
: Plaxi-KO'ed?
Panthers over Bucs
: Carolina lurking...

Last Week: 8-6
'06 Season: 71-57

Comments Question: What are your most intriguing storylines and predictions for Sunday's games?

-- D.S.

Friday 11/10 A.M. Quickie:
It's Rutgers' World...

THE story of the week/month/season is Rutgers football. Read my full, right-off-the-game, feel-my-hysteria post here.

A few key morning-after issues:
*Where would you rank Rutgers NOW?
*Did the Big East/Rutgers earn nat'l respect?
*Which wannabe-BCS contenders benefit most?
*Is the pending BCS controversy good or bad for CFB?
*Should Ray Rice be the new Heisman favorite?

I'd rank Rutgers in the Top 3; where would YOU rank them?

More on today's radar:

LeBron is NOT a quitter! (Or so he insists.) After leading the Cavs over the Bulls last night, he made sure not to leave the court before the game was over, as he controversially did in a Cavs L to the Hawks the other night. LBJ in smooth damage-control mode! (Even smoother than his 12 assists last night.)

More NBA: (1) Hornets get tagged with their first loss of the season (to the score-first, ask-questions-later Warriors). (2) And the Mavs FINALLY won their first game, though beating the Suns (now 1-5) ain't what it was a mere six months ago, in the Western Conference Finals, now is it?

NFL: Coming later today: Complete NFL Week 10 preview. As an appetizer, how big of an idiot is Plax Burress for calling out the Bears DBs as "very beatable?"

MLB Rumors and More: Are the Yankees going to deal Gary Sheffield to the Tigers? Are the Red Sox going to sign new free agent JD Drew? Will next year finally be Biggio's last in an Astros uni? And when will we find out which team won the bidding war for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzama?

Did you notice that I posted my usual college football weekend preview last night? If you missed it, scroll down or click here. Biggest pick: Northwestern over Ohio State! (Uh, or maybe I'm wishful thinking...)

Welcome to college hoops, Kevin Durant: The Texas super-frosh scored 20 in his first-ever CBB game, making it look as easy as everyone thought he would. He's a lock for Top 3 in the NBA Draft. (Let's just hope he'll fare better than ex-Texas "stud" LaMarcus Aldridge.)

The NCAA has every right to crow about student-athletes graduating at a higher rate than non-athletes, but I'll bet there are some stat fiends out there who can debunk the level of giddy I-told-you-so's from the NCAA.

San Francisco's NFL stadium problems could spike the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics. My money's still on Chicago to be the USOC's choice.

JoePa is a no-go for Saturday's game vs. Temple. I think everyone in the student section should wear knee braces in solidarity.

Veteran's Day Weekend is an appropriate time for the Cardinals to honor Pat Tillman. Now, it's time for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to fast-track his candidacy.

Finally: After sleeping on it, yes, Ray Rice is STILL at the very top of my Heisman ballot, ahead of Ohio St QB Troy Smith.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Where Do I Rank 'Em? (How 'Bout No. 2?)

Make no mistake: Rutgers will be the No. 2-ranked team on my Top 25 ballot on Sunday.

(Talking more realistically, someone needs to explain why Rutgers SHOULDN'T replace Louisville at No. 3. If you watched the game, I defy you to pick out a more impressive defensive showing -- particularly given what a juggernaut the L'ville offense is/was -- this season. If Louisville was the third-best team in the country, where do you possibly rank the still-unbeaten team that just beat them, if NOT No. 3? Anything else is complete b.s.)

This confirms that poll voters have been GROSSLY underrating Rutgers -- I'm quite sure because of Rutgers' rep -- by ranking them in the mid- to high teens.

That was one of the most amazing CFB games -- and especially one of the most amazing CFB halves -- I've seen in a long time. Particularly factoring in the stage of the season, the records of the two teams and the national-TV solo spotlight, I'd rank it as the best team performance of the season, ahead of Ohio St beating Texas, Arkansas beating Auburn, Louisville beating West Virginia or Michigan beating Notre Dame.

Consequently, I would like to think that poll voters, self-proclaimed media "experts" and fans will finally believe in the strength and talent of this Rutgers team and accept them -- if they win out, which would include a win over West Virginia -- as a legitimate pick for the BCS title game.

(Hell, given the defense I just saw dominate Louisville's X-Box offense, I'm quite sure that Rutgers would give Ohio State or Michigan a hell of a game. Although given the realities of the BCS formula and what I'm sure will be a continued PC- and human-poll bias against Rutgers that will spike their BCS rankings, I can imagine there are a fair number of happy fans of Florida, Texas, Cal, USC and Auburn. Oh, and people everywhere who hate the BCS.)

My upshot: It's totally fair to join me in jumping on the Rutgers bandwagon and root like crazy for a team that has historically sucked so horribly, but it's totally unfair to continue to hold that legacy against them in the polls or the BCS rankings. I'm so serious: Rutgers as No. 2 (though I'll happily agree with any/all who want to rank them at No. 3), and an utterly worthy BCS title-game team.*

By the way, after tonight I'd put Rutgers RB Ray Rice -- who had 75 yards IN THE FOURTH QUARTER ALONE -- at the TOP of my Heisman list. (Yes, ahead of Troy Smith, who -- let's all admit it -- is given preferential treatment mostly for being the QB on the No. 1 team in the country. But, hey, he's my clear-cut No. 2. So stop griping, OSU fans.)

Wow, I'm SO freaking ecstatic about this Rutgers result.
Hell, you can't be a college football fan (well, maybe outside of Louisville) and NOT be happy about it. My close college buddy called me just as Rutgers was finishing off their winning drive and said, "Now I know what it must have felt like for the rest of the country to watch Northwestern in 1995." Amen to that. You know I can digest it into my standard catchy slogan:

We're all Rutgers fans.

-- D.S.

* - For now... who knows what will happen when Rutgers plays at West Virginia on Dec. 2 in what could very likely be Rutgers' play-in game for the national title. Think West Virginia isn't going to kill themselves at home trying to play the spoiler? And for the record, the Big East tie-breaker for the league's automatic BCS bowl bid is by highest final BCS ranking.

So what we're looking at is the very real possibility that even if Rutgers climbs up to that deserving No. 3 spot NOW, if they lose at West Virginia on 12/02, we end up with the delightful proposition of having the BCS formula implode while sorting through the remaining BCS-favored one-loss teams to determine an opponent for the winner of the Ohio St-Michigan game. Currently, that list could include any/all of the following: Florida, Texas, USC/Cal winner, USC/Notre Dame winner (if USC beats Cal), Auburn (amazingly, without making the SEC title game), Arkansas and the Ohio St-Michigan loser. Ah, screw it: Just win out, Rutgers!

CFB Weekend Preview:
Northwestern Over Ohio St! (Uh, Right?)

I was light on posts today and since I'm settling in to watch Rutgers-Louisville tonight, I've got college football on the brain, so I figured I'd post my weekly CFB preview a little early.

Much like last week, the Game of the Week is being played on a Thursday night, leaving Saturday's slate to have interesting -- if indirect, at best -- national-title implications, but by no means dramatic. But there are several games that might hit the other BCS-level bowl games:

Northwestern over 1 Ohio St: NU is going to shock the world by beating OSU in Evanston on Saturday on a 3:30 national-TV game.

OK, does everyone know that I'm engaging in simple wishful thinking here? I don't REALLY think Northwestern will win, though I – and many others – certainly hope they do. But I harbor no actual hope.

21 Oregon over at 7 USC: Wasn't this supposed to be the first of the three "tough" games that USC was supposed to have that could threaten their unbeaten season? So much for that. USC's season is ruined; with that in mind, the Ducks add insult to a mortally injured USC season.

13 Tennessee over at 11 Arkansas: Tennessee's season ended last weekend at home with that very tough loss to LSU. But they can still ruin Arkansas' SEC West hopes. (Actually, one loss won't ruin Arkansas' SEC season. For Auburn to win the SEC West, Arkanasas has to lose TWICE.) But if Arkansas wins, it validates me ranking them No. 5 this week.

18 Wake Forest over at Florida St: If it wasn't for Rutgers, Wake Forest would be the Story of the Season. Wake is having their best season in a half-century. Who doesn't want to see ACC champ Wake Forest vs. Big East champ Rutgers in a BCS Bowl? Best. Bowl. Ever.

Best of the Rest (And see? I didn't even mention the juicy subplot of Steve Spurrier's homecoming to the Swamp. Upsets in bold.)

1 Ohio St over at Northwestern
2 Michigan over at Indiana
4 Texas over at Kansas St
5 Auburn over Georgia
6 Florida over S. Carolina
21 Oregon over at 7 USC
9 Notre Dame over at Air Force
10 W. Virginia over Cincinnati
13 Tennessee over at 11 Arkansas
12 LSU over Alabama
14 Boise St. over at San Jose St.
16 Wisconsin over at Iowa
Tech over at 17 Oklahoma
18 Wake Forest over at Florida St
19 GA Tech over at UNC
20 VA Tech over Kent St.
22 BC over Duke
Miami over at 23 Maryland
24 Texas A&M over Nebraska

-- D.S.

Five Reasons to Root for Rutgers

Thursday A.M. Quickie here.

Despite being unbeaten and playing in a BCS conference, Rutgers has been saddled with the college football equivalent of the "soft bigotry of low expectations."

When an unexpected, historically bad program makes a "dream-season" run – particularly when that team starts the season unranked – they are nicked twice: Not only do they have to overcome public perception, but they have to overcome voter bias.

If Rutgers had the exact same record, statistics and strength of schedule but its jersey said "Miami" or "Colorado" -- or even, say, "Pitt" -- they would be ranked in the Top 5 right now.

But because they are "RUTGERS," they entered the season at a severe disadvantage in the human polls that the team is still struggling to overcome: Pollsters can't believe that RUTGERS is any good.

I have first-hand experience with a situation very similar to this: In 1995, when Northwestern went through its dream Rose Bowl season, it took 8 weeks and a win at then-No. 7 Michigan for NU to climb to No. 17, despite being 4-1. (Off the top of my head, Wisconsin went through similar treatment during its Cinderella Rose Bowl season in 1993.)

But NU and Wisco even benefited from playing in the Big Ten. Rutgers is pinged for playing in the Big East (despite the fact that most computer polls rank the Big East ahead of the... wait for it... SEC. I'm not kidding.)

The fastest way for Rutgers to FINALLY earn the Top 5-10 ranking it deserves? Beat unbeaten No. 3 Louisville on ESPN tonight. (Whew, can you remember the last time that two unbeaten teams played this late in the season on BACK-TO-BACK weeks? These Thursday night games really have become the Monday Night Football of college football.)

Anyway, if Rutgers can pull off the upset and beat Louisville, I will replace Louisville with Rutgers as my No. 2-ranked team. End the bias against traditionally shitty programs having Cinderella seasons!

Now, Five Reasons to Root Like Hell for Rutgers:

(1) Would tilt the BCS: Vastly increases the likelihood that the Ohio St-Michigan winner would play one of the many qualified teams with one loss. (Which one? Hey: That's the "tilt" part.)

(2) No better Cinderella story in college football this season. (Or, in fact, the last 10 years. Rutgers is this decade's Northwestern.)

(3) Super superlative: It would be the BIGGEST win EVER for Rutgers football. Those kind of wins are precious and rare. (And it's AT Rutgers: Imagine the Jersey-style post-game mayhem!)

(4) Stick it to poll voters, as mentioned above. Expose the stupidity of those who continue to underrate Rutgers because they're Rutgers.

(5) Rutgers – RUTGERS!! – would have the inside track on the path to the national-title game. RUTGERS!! How can you NOT want to see that?

-- D.S.

Thursday 11/09 A.M. Quickie:
Rutgers, 49ers, Bryan Pata, More.

The biggest story of the day is another college football battle of Big East unbeatens tonight on national TV... at Rutgers! More on that coming shortly in its own post.

Also on today's radar:

The 49ers are leaving San Francisco?! How do you like the ring of "Santa Clara 49ers?" Or "California 49ers?" Or, as always, we can dream: "Las Vegas 49ers."

(Ironically, their Bay Area peer the A's got a new stadium deal and finally have a little clarity beyond the genius front office.)

Should Miami be playing this weekend at Maryland in the wake of the murder of Bryan Pata? I understand the argument for its unseemliness, but perhaps the best tribute to his memory is to take the field. (But given Miami's troubled season to date, I have a feeling this is no-win for administrators at The U.)

Larry Brown gets $18.5M: David Stern didn't exactly go out on a limb, splitting the baby in half between what the Knicks presumably wanted to pay him (Zilch) and what Brown presumably felt he was owed ($40M). Interestingly, Stern seemed to award Brown nearly $1 million for each of his sorry-ass 23 wins from last season.

Padres hire Bud Black: Let's see: Instead of hiring Dusty Baker, who always has the potential to ruin good pitchers, they hired the Angels pitching coach, who has the potential to make the Padres' solid staff even better. Good call, Kevin Towers.

JoePa might think he's ready to coach Penn State this weekend, but his docs won't let him be on the sidelines. I'll put the over/under of the number of TV camera shots of JoePa working from the upstairs booth at 30.

OK, Bob Huggins can recruit: He has what many consider the No. 1-rated recruiting class of 2007 on the first day players can commit to teams, led by the No. 1 player in the '07 class, Michael Beasley. Given that it only takes a few star players to turn a mediocre program into a Sweet 16 team, Huggins seems to be on his way, at least for the '07 season. Other teams that scored: Duke, Syracuse, Florida, Ohio St.

Raiders DL Tyler Brayton was fined $25K for his caught-on-tape knee-to-groin from Monday night. (So in "MasterCard Ad" terms: Kneeing an opponent in the groin: $25,000. Catching it on video: Priceless.)

Trouble in JAX: OK, we get it. Former starting QB Byron Leftwich and Jags coach Jack Del Rio REALLY don't like each other right now.

T'ed Off: Union honcho Billy Hunter wants David Stern to tell the refs to back off on all the T's, being assessed at double the rate from last year.

Morning-After NBA Notes:

(1) The defending West champ Dallas Mavs are 0-4 for the first time in team history after losing to the Clips last night. Finals jinx much?

(2) Gilbert Arenas was "Agent 4-Zero": He had 40 points in only 32 minutes (his second 40-point game in a row at home) and the Wiz thumped the Pacers by 26 in D.C.

(3) Oh boy, Oberto! Spurs forward Fabricio Oberto was 11/11 FG in helping the Spurs beat the Suns (1-4) in last night's big matchup.

(4) Zach Randolph continued his nasty start for the Blazers: 36 and 10.

(5) 2 wins down, 22 to go: The Knicks pulled out a hugely gritty win on the road at Denver.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

NFL Week 10 Rankings:
Colts Are New No. 1

After inexplicably skipping last week, here are this week's NFL rankings, as always, submitted without further analysis or -- let's face it -- insight.

UPDATE: Uh, did I miss a few teams? Uh, yes. See what happens when I take a week off? (Even worse: I left out MY OWN TEAM, the Jags!) Anyway, I've updated it, with apologies...

1. Colts
2. Broncos
3. Bears
4. Pats
5. Saints
6. Chargers
7. Ravens
8. Giants
9. Chiefs
10. Jags
11. Falcons
12. Seahawks
13. Bengals
14. Eagles
15. Panthers
16. Jags
17. Cowboys
18. Rams
19. Vikings
20. Jets
21. Redskins
22. Dolphins
23. Bills
24. Steelers
25. Niners
26. Packers
27. Lions
28. Bucs
29. Titans
30. Browns
31. Raiders
32. Cardinals

Comments Question: If the Colts are a unanimous No. 1, who is No. 2? Have the Bears created some doubt about who the NFC's best team is? And do you give an out-sized bump to the Dolphins for winning at Chicago?

-- D.S.

Heath Shuler's Triumphant Return to D.C.

It is not without a massive amount of irony that Heath Shuler's triumphant return to D.C. as a newly minted Congressman trumps his previous legacy of spectacular failure there as an NFL QB.

The Democrats won back the House with a two-pronged strategy: (1) an external factor (dissatisfaction with Bush) that they simply rode and (2) and internal factor (diversification of candidates, specifically towards the center/right) that allowed free-swinging Independents and dissatisfied moderate Republicans to feel OK -- some might add "finally" -- with voting for a Dem.

That's where Shuler emerges as the poster boy in politics he never became in football.

He's right -- perhaps even far right -- on social issues, but was recruited to run as a Democrat because of his commitment to some of the D's more populist platforms -- and, far more important, for a profile that gave him a chance to win in an otherwise red district.

He was the type of candidate who the Dems would NEVER have sought out throughout the past few elections, as the party lurched to the left (and as it kept losing elections in traditionally red – or even "purple" – districts).

"Expanding the tent" turned out to be a winning election strategy. It remains to be seen whether the new coalition can be held together – the freshmen who led the charge to win the House back for the Dems seem to be moderates; the Democratic leadership that benefits from that charge is hard left.

And, amazingly, in the middle of it all: Heath (Freaking!) Shuler, NFL loser but Politics champion.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 11/08 A.M. Quickie:
Post-Election Madness,
Tragedy at The U.,
Herm Edwards' Big Choice?

I'm a little behind because I was up until the wee hours watching election coverage, but I'll have a true "Lead Item" by mid-morning about how the election results dovetailed directly with a distinct sports angle.

More spin on today's big storylines:

U. of Miami DE Bryan Pata shot, killed: What a tragedy for The U. and for college football. I'm sure there will be a lot more coverage of this as the day goes on.

Herm Edwards can't choose between hot Damon Huard and coming-off-injury Trent Green. Among all NFL traditions, one of my least favorite is the notion that starters can't lose their spot to injury – that simply because Green is healthy, he automatically gets his starting QB job back. I'm sorry: Has Edwards not been paying attention to how well the team is playing under backup-no-more Huard? Two words: Start. Huard.

Michael Strahan might play this weekend. Shaun Alexander still won't. (How's that fantasy pick working out for ya?)

Matsuzaka bidding ends today: And all I want is for the right officials to announce the results at 5:01 p.m. and not leave us all hanging: Who won the bidding... and how much did they shell out for the rights to negotiate with Scott Boras for the pitcher's services?

More MLB Free Agency rumors: Are the Phillies targeting Alfonso Soriano? Losing him would be bad enough for the Nats; losing him to another team in the division would add injury to insult.

College Hoops Preseason All-American Team: Tyler Hansbrough, Joakim Noah, Ronald Steele, Big Baby Davis and Brandon Rush. That's 3 of 5 from the SEC, if you're keeping score. (I'm disappointed -- but not surprised -- that one of the super-freshmen, like, say, Greg Oden, didn't make the list. You'd think voters would have learned something from their experience with, um... Carmelo Freaking Anthony.)

That was fast, particularly for Bob Knight: Texas Tech leading scorer Jarrious Jackson rejoined the team for practice after being dismissed last week. Guess Knight REALLY wants to pass Dean Smith on the all-time win list.

College hoops early signing period starts today: But OJ Mayo won't commit to USC, though he says he's still interested in playing there. If you K-State fans think Mayo wants to join buddy Bill Walker playing under Huggins, I'm just not quite sure Walker will be there for his sophomore season. Why stay when he can be an NBA first-round pick?

NBA: Hornets rule! Is it possible that Chris Paul, in his sophomore NBA season, is the Most Valuable Player in the league? It's not a crazy argument. After four games, his Hornets are one of only two unbeaten teams, and he had 22 and 11 to lead NOOCH to 4-0, best start in franchise history.

NBA Injury Watch: Shaq didn't play again last night, for the second straight time (knee). All he has to do is be healthy for the playoffs; it doesn't matter what seed the Heat get.

Meanwhile, Amare Stoudemire could start tonight, representing a nice moment for a player who was one of the NBA's most exciting before that knee injury hurt him.

More evidence that 2004 is a LONG time ago: The Red Sox declined to pick up their option on World Series title closer Keith Foulke.

R.I.P. Johnny Sain, 89: Part of one of the greatest mantras in sports history: "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."

From the original Boston Post poem during the Boston Braves' Spahn-Sain 1948 World Series season: "First we'll use Spahn, then we'll use Sain, Then an off day, followed by rain. Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain, And followed, we hope, by two days of rain."

I'm no friend of the fogeys, but I can heartily agree that you just don't see amazing stuff like that anymore.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Britney Spears: On the Market!

News of Britney Spears' divorce from (ugh) "K-Fed" inspires this question to get us through a long evening of election returns, NBA League Pass and resuming my weekly NFL rankings (after taking last week off):

Which athlete(s) would you rank highest as most likely to be Britney's rebound relationship? Extra points for creativity, clever ideas and/or multiple names sorted in a ranking...

UPDATE (11/08 1:25 p.m.): I just read that John Daly and his wife have filed for divorce. If you can imagine a romantic pairing that is any more frightening/hilarious than Britney Spears and John Daly, I defy you to name it.

Election Day Special:
Sports Fan Analogue

A couple years ago, I tried to construct the sports analogue to the "red/blue" divide in American politics today. My analysis was constructed more by sledgehammer than by scalpel, but I came up with a framework: Sports "Purists" vs. Sports "Progressives."

The framework turned into a larger Page 2 feature package to tie into the 2004 elections, but it began with me crystallizing what I saw as two competing ends of the sports fan's ideological spectrum.

This column was the result. Some of the categories were more tongue-in-cheek than others, but I really was/am convinced there's a philosophical spectrum, with most fans edging toward one end or the other, as a lens through which they digest sports.

Obviously, there are some topics that defy ideological labels (although I'd argue that, much like our current political situation, fans often contradict themselves with the various sports concepts they support or reject).

I'd be curious whether you think that it's possible to create broad-based labels that might reflect our national political landscape.

Do you think that TD celebrations are good or bad for the NFL?
Do you think LeBron should not have been allowed to enter the NBA early?
Do you think that SABRmetrics are positive for baseball or ruining it?

Those are just a sample, of course. I think a lot of it is generational more than geographic, and I'm not ready to suggest there's a correlation between "red state" America and "purist" sports fans or between "blue state" America and "progressive" sports fans. But maybe there's an analogue between citizens who vote on "values" (whatever that might be) and sports fans whose perspective is rooted in specific "values."

Anyway, that's my attempt to wrap today's focus on politics into sports. I've been playing around with this stuff for a couple of years and have yet to really nail it down, but I think it could make a good spark to an interesting discussion.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 11/07 A.M. Quickie:
It's Election Day: Go Vote!

I could make various appeals about who you should vote for and why (particularly if you're registered in a state with a toss-up race), but instead I'll simply encourage you to go out and vote.

(I'm a politics junkie, so I'll have one eye on the election action today, but I'm also going to attempt to bring back a project I created a few years ago for Page 2 that tried to be a grand unifying theory between sports and politics. More on that later.)

Running down today's big storylines:

Seahawks blank Raiders on MNF: Here's my favorite stat: Oakland became the first team in NFL history to be shut out TWICE -- in ONE SEASON -- on Monday Night Football. Kudos!

This is the video clip of the day: Tyler Brayton having his "YouTube Moment," with a well-placed knee to the groin on national TV. Nothing -- nothing -- is as consistently entertaining as the Groin Shot. (via WithLeather)

NFL Flex Schedule for 11/19: The Chargers-Broncos game got plucked for Sunday primetime, so save your gripes about "East Coast Bias." The league could have moved the Pats, but didn't. (Maybe because they were playing the Packers.)

(Meanwhile, off today's election theme, you might notice that NBC's Election studio looks remarkably similar to the set of Football Night in America. That's some quality double-dipping. Great catch by my favorite blog for cable-news info, TVNewser.)

Speaking of Sunday primetime, if both Michael Strahan and Brian Urlacher sit next week when the Bears play the Giants, does the game still make a sound?

JoePa is a gamer: How many other coaching Methuselahs would rally from a broken leg to be ready for Saturday? Supposedly, he plans to be on the sidelines for the Temple game. Maybe because it's Temple.

CFB Top 25 Mea Culpa: Kudos to all commenters who correctly pointed out the MASSIVE FLAW IN MY LOGIC in assigning Louisville the "best" win of the season over Ohio St. I should have corrected it to say that Ohio St. has the best win of the season. Arkansas has the second-best. Auburn has the third-best. Louisville is off the map. If I was half as clever as I *think* I am, the world would be a better place. I regret the error and -- even though I think Louisville would beat Michigan on a neutral field -- I will likely switch my poll ballot around.

Three things about last night's NBA results:

(1) Don Nelson won his Dallas homecoming, a game that oozed with too many layers of symbolism: The architect/daddy figure returns with a new team and beats his old team, which had ascended to the status of "best" in the conference? Yikes.

(2) Utah is still undefeated, and they remained that way by beating the Pistons. Remember the Pistons last November? How the mighty...

(3) If the Knicks are going to reach the magical "24 wins" mark, beating the elite teams like the Spurs isn't necessary. But a 1-3 start puts them off the 24-W pace.

Clemens, Pettitte file for F.A.: How amusing would it be to see them come out as a package deal, available to -- say -- the Yankees, who could afford both -- plus a certain Japanese import? I think my head would implode, along with many other fans. Speaking of which...

Only one more day for teams to get their sealed posting bids in for Daisuke Matsuzaka. Any last predictions at the number? $30 mil? More?

(Apparently, his nickname is "D-Mat," which is unfortunate. Can't they do better than the tired "first name intitial-first syllable of last name" construction? Based on his mythical super-pitch, why not call him "Gyro?" Too "American Gladiators?")

-- "D-Shan" (ugh)

Monday, November 06, 2006

College Poll Mania

It's a double-dip of college poll news:

College Football: What did we learn this weekend?

(1) That the presumption that Ohio St. can/will roll over whoever plays them in the national-title game is premature. Just ask Illinois.

(2) That Michigan is No. 2 by default.

(3) That Louisville took over the title of "best win of the season," but some voters still don't care. (Best win? Yes: They beat the No. 3 team in the country. They dethrone Ohio St., which -- as we now know -- beat the No. 4 team. I don't care what Texas' ranking was back then; the most recent ranking should take precedence to evaluate how good a win at the time actually was. That's why Florida's wins over Georgia and Alabama don't mean jack today, even though before the season, it seemed like those two would count as "quality" wins. It turns out they were quality wins -- for Kentucky and Mississippi St, but not so much for Florida.)

(4) That the SEC would be better off seceding from the BCS cabal and simply saying it will take on the winner of the BCS title game after the season is over, if the BCS champ has the guts to do it.

In my latest BlogPoll ballot, I have the Top 5 this way:
1. Ohio St.
2. Louisville
3. Michigan
4. Texas
5. Arkansas

Here's the only point that matters about the inevitable complaints from Michigan fans: Why do you even care? You have the exclusive opportunity to simply play-in to the national title game. Who cares where you're ranked in Week 11? Louisville and fans of the one-loss SEC champ have way more lobbying to do. Are Michigan fans so sure they're going to lose to Ohio St that they are already lobbying to keep their spot at No. 2 after they lose to OSU? If not, then why gripe about a No. 3 ranking the Monday after your team barely eked out a win over Ball State?

College Basketball: I have one simple question for the AP voters: Who were the 9 fools who voted UNC No. 1 over Florida, and how in the world do they justify it? Do they really believe that a defending champ returning all five starters plus both key reserves should be ranked behind a UNC team that has to integrate a batch of new freshmen? I don't care how talented they are, and I don't even care if Florida doesn't end up winning the national title. How do they not present the body of evidence necessary to give them, at a minimum, your preseason vote for No. 1? What body of work from UNC -- given that the talented freshman class doesn't even have one at the college level -- can those voters offer to explain their vote?

Comments Question: As it seems that I'm not accepting any answers for "Who is the preseason No. 1?" besides Florida, who would be your choices for the teams that have a shot at dethroning the Gators and why? Aside from the stock answer "In the NCAA tournament, anything can happen in a single game," what teams have the qualities necessary to beat Florida?

Monday 11/06 A.M. Quickie:
Colts Prove Who's No. 1 in NFL

Colts are No. 1: It's meaningless unless the Colts (finally) win the Super Bowl, but for now, they might be content simply being the NFL's No. 1 team.

Too much Manning-to-Harrison from Indy. Too many INTs from Brady. And, turning the corner into the second half of the season, we have a definitive title favorite: The Colts. How can you disagree?

My 5 favorite NFL Week 9 Storylines:

1. Dolphins stun formerly unbeaten Bears in Chicago: There hasn't been a more unlikely result in the NFL this season, and it's the best evidence yet that the "experts" don't quite know what the hell they're talking about.

2. Redskins steal one vs. Cowboys: What was craziest: Novak's second chance? Vanderjagt missing a would-be game-winner? The subsequent penalty with no time left to set up the Skins' GW FG? (Imagine: The ending was crazy enough to totally eclipse TO's somewhat clever "Nap" TD celebration.)

3. Steelers are finished: There's the Super Bowl Curse, and then there's simply a flat-out collapse. The title defense ended weeks ago, but yesterday was the final nail.

4. LT and LJ: The AFC West is sizzling, and fantasy's top two performers are living up to the draft-day predictions. 6 TDs between them yesterday. Yikes.

5. Marques Colston: Rookie of the Year. The Saints TE/WR has helped turn Drew Brees into a legit MVP candidate – and made fans forget about the increasing likelihood that Reggie Bush is Reggie Bust. (Yesterday was his worst day yet: 11 carries for NEGATIVE 5 yards, a rare feat.)

Complete Week 9 Wrap-Up here.

CFB: Ohio St. is unanimous No. 1. I'm not going to disagree, though I am going to jump Louisville over Michigan into the No. 2 spot. UM deserves the hit after letting Ball State stay in the game; Louisville throttled the No. 3 team in the country in a "Nemesis Game."

NBA: Sixers Rule, Suprisingly. Rather than discount Philly's win over the Heat yesterday (Miami played without Shaq, which makes them a Lottery team), I'm going to praise the rejuvenated AI, who has led the Sixers to a 3-0 start. Does that mean that the Euro team that beat Philly in the preseason would be a strong contender in the East?

MLB: Which team will be bold enough to sign both Barry Bonds AND Sammy Sosa? Which team will trade for Gary Sheffield? Are the Mets targeting All-Star 2B and former Northwestern standout Mark Loretta?

NYC Marathon: Yeah, I saw Lance Armstrong in person yesterday (albeit from a rooftop party on 1st Ave.). It was pretty cool, and I was seriously impressed with his ability to finish in a sub-3-hour time. Give me 2 more hours and I could do it, too.

MNF: Do Steelers' fans heads implode if the Raiders have a better record than the Steelers after 9 weeks? (An unlikely result, given the power of Seattle's 12th Man, not to mention Sensational Seneca)

Finally, it was amusing to hear Pats fans boo Adam Vinatieri, who only happened to win three freaking Super Bowls for them. You stay classy, New England.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NFL Week 9 Half-Baked Wrap-Up

As the pivot week from the season's first half into its second half, Week 9 was about the end of mojo: I mean, is there a bigger story than the previously 1-6 Dolphins beating the previously 7-0 Bears? It's the upset of the year in the NFL and one of the more unlikely results you'll ever see. "Any given Sunday," indeed.

(Meanwhile, we've got a top contender for the Game Finish of the Year in the NFL: The wild Redskins win over the Cowboys, featuring (1) a botched game-winning field goal – by the REDSKINS – (2) then a botched game-winning field goal by the Cowboys, (3) then a Redskins blocked-kick returned to the no man's land of the middle of the field, (4) then a face-mask penalty on the Cowboys, giving the Skins an added 15 yards PLUS keeping the "0:00" from actually meaning the game is over, (5) then a game-wining field goal by the second-chance Redskins.)

A run-down of lost mojo, Week 9 edition:

Bears: Like 1985 all over again! Season's 2nd half no walk.

Michael Vick: Didn't he used to be an MVP candidate?

Bengals: 4 straight losses. Makes off-field trouble look fun.

T.O.: "The Nap" TD celebration precedes key drops

Brett Favre: 2 horrible, game-blowing INTs. As usual.

Giants: Even with a W, sure didn't LOOK like an NFC contender.

Rams: Worst run defense ever? (Or just another victim of LJ?)

Reggie Bush: 11 rushes for -5 yards (4 rec for 22 yards). Dud!

Vince Young: As called here, he's a poor man's David Garrard

Steelers: Well, this sort of started in Week 1, didn't it?

A few shout-outs to some Sunday studs:

(1) Nick Novak: Miss game-winning FG? No problem. Here's another shot.

(2) Roy Williams: Time to ask/argue: Best WR in the NFL this season?

(3) Marques Colston: Makes Reggie Bush's failures all the more ironic.

(4) Damon Huard: Trent Green has been "Trent Greened"... again!

(5) Brian Billick: It took long enough (and firing buddy Jim Fassel), but he's finally flexing his "genius" as an offensive coordinator.

Comment question: Who are your biggest Week 9 Studs (and Duds), along with your analysis of the big revelations from the day's games. Ideally, it'll help me sound less stupid in Monday's revision.

-- D.S.

NFL Week 9 Live-Comment Tailgate

That was some tremendous work yesterday on the CFB Live-Commenting, my friends. I'm offline this morning watching the NYC Marathon live from the streets, so I don't want to miss the window to have our weekly NFL Live-Comment. Use the comments area on this post, and later this afternoon, I'll circle back. Should be an interesting day in the NFL. -- D.S.

Update: This has been one of those "If you think you know ANYTHING about the NFL, you don't" kind of days: Dolphins over Bears? Lions over Falcons? Anyone -- anyone?! -- see those coming? Is it possible that, suddenly, the Chiefs are the best team in the NFL, with Damon Huard as the league's most prolific QB? (A nice thought, but the No. 1 team in the NFL is the winner of tonight's game between the Colts and Pats.)