Saturday, January 05, 2008

Saturday: PM "Sickie"

Battling a cold. More tomorrow am. Enjoy your weekend. - D.S.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, January 04, 2008

Friday 01/04 A.M. Quickie:
Wild Card, Kansas, Clemens, Obama, More!

Today's Names to Know: Wild Cards, Kansas, Roger Clemens, US Army vs. ESPNU, Warren Sapp, Bill Belichick, Blazers, Villanova, Vanderbilt, Dave Zirin and More!

NFL Wild Card Weekend: The general gist: This year's NFL Wild Card round kind of sucks because the ending feels so inevitable, making the Wild Card round a bit of a dud. Now, if the Patriots lose along the way? Mayhem. But let's not speak of that until it happens, god forbid a Quickie jinx.

Click here for my picks and analysis, announced yesterday. The short version: Jags, Chargers, Seahawks, Bucs.

Orange Bowl: Kansas completes a dream season, going 12-1 with a BCS bowl win and what will likely be a Top 5 finish. Perhaps even more astounding, the team sizes up as even better next season. That makes this less "one-hit wonder" than "breakthrough."

Roger Clemens on "60 Minutes": So it was just lidocaine and B-12? Oh THAT explains EVERYTHING. One question: Why didn't he just say that the day the Mitchell Report came out? It feels like it took him and his legal team three weeks to come up with the excuse, then busted it out.

CFB Recruiting: Not one but TWO high school All-America games – the traditional US Army-sponsored game and the new ESPN-sponsored competitor, dividing the talent, but it's double the viewing for fans waiting on those in-game commitment announcements that have come to define the event.

NFL: Warren Sapp is retiring. Future Hall of Famer. Not bad for a guy whose draft stock plummeted when sketchy rumors of his marijuana use came out on draft day. Seems so quaint now.

Bill Belichick is Coach of the Year: Obviously, just as obvious as Brady as MVP and Peterson as Offensive Rookie of the Year and Willis as Defensive Rookie of the Year. (One thing: Where was Romeo Crennel? Not even on the ballot at all?)

MLB Hot Stove: White Sox acquire versatile Nick Swisher from the A's for three of the Sox's top five prospects (per Sickels via Fanhouse). As Lackey noted, Chicago is under pressure to compete with the suddenly juggernaut Tigers and defending division champ Indians; the A's are apparently competing with the Marlins -- I just think Billy Beane enjoys pushing his Moneyball experiment to its natural limits.

NBA: The question about the Blazers was how they would respond to their long winning streak being snapped. They were pushed into 2 OT by the Bulls, but came away with a win – not something that necessarily would have happened in November.

CBB: How's the Big East this season? Unpredictable, at least to start. Villanova lost to DePaul in a fairly significant upset. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt continued its best start in program history, beating Rice and moving to 14-0.

Reading Series Hangover: Huge thanks to all the readers who came out last night to the Varsity Letters Reading Series. I got a warm reception I didn't deserve, then Will Leitch put on a fantastic show, followed by Dave Zirin, who truly put on a performance. Never met Dave before, and he's a terrific guy. I was honored to share a stage with those guys.

Politics and Sports: Longtime readers know that I am a politics junkie. It was awesome last night at the reading as lots of people there kept checking their Blackberries and cell phones to see results from Iowa, a murmur slicing through the crowd as the news came in. As far as the superficial sports connections go: Obama's win is a win for pick-up basketball fans. (Come on: Don't you really want to see a pick-up hoops court installed at the White House?) Meanwhile, Huckabee's win is a win for fans of jogging; Rudy's poor showing is a repudiation of Yankees fans. (Kidding.)

Varsity Dad: New post! And it's long(-ish)! Here's the link. All part of my commitment to keep Varsity Dad updated and fresh -- I really want to grow out the community of like-minded parents. If you have a story to add or a relevant blog post to link to (or excerpt), shoot an email with the details to varsitydad-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. (Just found out last night that Zirin is a Varsity Dad fan, which was nice to hear. I've got to work on getting him to contribute.) Commenters have named their Sportsperson of the Year. And the winner is...

-- D.S.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

NFL Wild Card Weekend Playoff Picks

Want to nominate for the 2008 Bloggie awards? Hey: Why not? Didn't work out last year -- let's go for two in a row! Click here for the nomination page (scroll down to "Best Sports Blog") /shameless self-promotion

The air of inevitability surrounding the Patriots
has turned Wild Card Weekend into Wild Dud Weekend. This ain't like a few years ago when the 6-seed Steelers went on a championship run via the Wild Card.

In the AFC, it's like "Does it really matter?" Does it matter if the Jaguars beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh? Sure, it's interesting (and unprecedented) to see the Steelers lose at home to the same team twice in one season, but does it impact the winner's chances against the Patriots? Not really. Does it matter if the Chargers beat the Titans? As hot as San Diego is right now, they still have to get through the Colts before they even GET to the Pats, who already dispatched them. (And, don't forget: It's still Norv Turner.)

In the NFC, the operative phrase is: "Who cares?" Things are even bleaker, with the playoff winner considered nothing more than a straw man, a tomato can that will be -- if fans are lucky -- anticlimax to a decent Pats-Colts AFC title game and the final step in a perfect 19-0 season for the Pats. Does it matter who that 19th win is against? No.

So as for the NFC Wild Card games: Giants-Bucs? Zzz... Redskins-Seahawks? Zzz... When the ultimate outcome is all-but-predetermined, every incremental step is diminished -- particularly the Wild Card Weekend.

Jaguars over Steelers.
Chargers over Titans.
Bucs over Giants.
Seahawks over Redskins.

Your picks in the Comments and over at DSCommenters. Things get slightly more interesting next week... but not much.

-- D.S.

Thursday 01/03 A.M. Quickie:
West Virginia, Purple Jesus, Mavs, More!

Today's Names to Know: Cam Cameron, Pat White, Noel Devine, Bill Stewart, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Mike Nolan, Mavericks, Eric Gordon, Brian McNamee, Varsity Letters and More!

Bill Parcells fires Cam Cameron: Now THIS will be interesting. Will Parcells look for an experienced hand or a young up-and-comer? Will he go to the Parcells family tree or raid the Cowboys (Jason Garrett?), like he did for a GM (see below). The Cameron experiment was a dud; Dolphins fans I know are ecstatic at the news. When "anyone but the current coach" is the preference over "current coach," you are in trouble as a coach.

Fiesta Bowl: West Virgina crushes Oklahoma. Here was my first (and lingering) thought: How the hell did this West Virginia team get stifled by Pitt? Pitt?!?! Because they looked dominant versus an Oklahoma team so many fans and experts presumed was not just a Top 3 or 4 team, but a team that deserved some kind of shot at the national title.

This was WVU's spread offense in all of its unstoppable glory (without longtime head coach Rich Rodriguez, mind you).

QB Pat White was spectacular: For all of the highly touted QBs throughout the rest of the bowl season -- Tebow, Brennan, Daniel -- White put on the best performance. He rushed for 150 yards, but also throwing for 176 and 2 TDs. (After the game, White threw his support behind interim head coach Bill Stewart to get the position full-time.)

And freshman sensation Noel Devine rushed for 108 yards on 13 carries (9 ypc) and 2 TDs, including a 65-yard game-capper early in the 4th to break Oklahoma's spirit once and for all. (Devine added 47 receiving yards on 2 catches and 88 return yards on 4 kicks. That's 243 yards of all-purpose goodness. Take that, McKnight and Benn.)

How could I forget Owen Schmitt?

For West Viriginia, what a bittersweet moment: Abandoned by coach Rich Rodriguez, they rallied behind his interim replacement to put on a fireworks display in a BCS bowl game they were not supposed to win. At the same time, fans will be wondering "What if?" over that loss at home to Pitt in the regular-season finale, costing them a shot in the national title game, for a long time. This was a VERY good team.

For Oklahoma, it was a second straight shocking loss in a Fiesta Bowl. OU was 9th in the country in rushing defense, giving up less than 100 yards per game; West Virginia rushed for nearly 350. At this point, they're probably better off giving the spot to another Big 12 team, if they're just going to be befuddled by innovative offenses every year.

Orange Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Kansas. College football's most stirring preseason story versus its most amazing in-season story (though affecting for far different reasons).

At the same time, I think this will draw the lowest ratings of any BCS bowl game (and that's saying something in a year as down as this one). I'm intrigued to see Todd Reesing against the Hokies' D. Pick: Kansas.

Adrian Peterson is NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: A no-brainer... almost makes you wonder what the GMs of teams picking ahead of the Vikings were thinking in passing on him.

Texas RB Jamaal Charles turning pro: He's not the next Peterson, but he is right in line with the rest of the talented Big 12 running backs of recent vintage -- and certainly of this draft.

Pats-Giants was the highest-rated regular-season NFL game since 1995: That's saying something in this age of consumer fragmentation. Then again, they DID have 2.5 networks (plus the local network) to help boost the number. That said: If it was on NBC, CBS or Fox alone, it would have probably come close to the 34.5 million who watched.

(Meanwhile, the NHL Outdoor Game on Tuesday earned the highest rating for a hockey game since February 1996. Hell, they should make EVERY game a gimmicky populist event.)

More NFL: The 49ers won't fire Mike Nolan. (Which always seems to need the qualifier: "Won't fire Mike Nolan... yet." It is an inevitability that they will, if not this season then next or the year after that.)

Meanwhile, Parcells taps Cowboys scouting guru Ireland to be his Dolphins GM, as expected. Ireland has a pretty daunting job from Day 1: Who should the Dolphins take with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft? Or, alternatively, should they trade down?

For example: Jerry Jones loves Arkansas almost as much as he loves his Cowboys. Jones also owns TWO first-round picks; don't you think Jones is ready to swap them to move up to take Hogs uber-back Darren McFadden? I do. ("Uber-Back": Hmm, I think I like that as D-Mac's new nickname. Claimed!)

NBA: Mavs beat Warriors. Another exemption to my "Won't-talk-about-the-Mavs-until-the-Playoffs" rule: Unless they are playing (and beating) the Warriors, and we get the usual round of sports media folks assigning any sort of redemptive meaning to a Mavs win.

There is none: It doesn't change the Mavs' unprecedented first-round choke in the playoffs a year ago. No regular-season win will change that.

To override that meme, the Mavs don't just have to beat the Warriors in the regular season (hell, they don't just have to vanquish the Warriors in the playoffs, which STILL wouldn't change the magnitude of what happened last year); the Mavs have to win an NBA title. Don't talk to me about the Mavs until they get to the NBA Finals.

CBB: Eric Gordon had 25 in his Big Ten conference-season debut, in an Indiana win over Iowa. It's a down year for the Big Ten, and he is the conference's most exciting player. Circle Indiana vs. Michigan State, Indiana vs. Wisconsin and Michigan State vs. Wisconsin.

MLB: McNamee vs. Clemens. Brian McNamee's lawyers will be TiVo'ing Roger Clemens on 60 Minutes this Sunday, just in case he says anything to defame McNamee's claims about Clemens in the Mitchell Report. Then they'll sue Clemens' ass. And THEN the fun begins.

Finally, don't forget: I'll be appearing at the Varsity Letters Reading Series TONIGHT in NYC, opening up for Will Leitch and Dave Zirin. It's at Happy Ending (302 Broome) at 8 p.m. and it's FREE. Full details here. If you haven't seen my pre-game interview, check it out here, because it includes what might be the most incisive thing I have ever expressed:

It's like the people who call into Jim Rome or other sports-talk radio are like the "before" version of Charlie in "Flowers for Algernon," when he was mentally challenged. The Deadspin commenters are like the super-smart "post-drugs" version of Charlie—still fundamentally retarded, but riding a tide of brilliance—that's the daily commenting stream.

See you tonight.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Wednesday 01/02 A.M. Quickie:
UGA, Colt, Carr, USC, Bowlin', NHL, More!

Today's Names to Know: Georgia, Colt Brennan, Plus-One, Lloyd Carr, Chad Henne, Tim Tebow, Joe McKnight, Tony Temple, Fiesta Bowl, Sidney Crosby, Reggie Bush and Kim Kardashian, Varsity Letters and More!

Georgia waxes Hawaii: If nothing else, this 41-10 domination affirmed that last year's Cinderella win by Boise State over Oklahoma in a BCS bowl game was an exception, not a paradigm shift (sort of like George Mason making the Final Four in hoops two years ago, followed up by last season's fairly conventional results).

Here's where things get interesting: If you thought that Hawaii was overrated all along, then this blowout was nothing more than confirmation -- even if you had Georgia ranked higher than its current No. 4. The best you can do is rank Georgia No. 2 at the end of the year, leapfrogging the Ohio State-LSU loser and Oklahoma (even if OU beats West Virginia tonight... after all, even Hawaii didn't lose at home to lowly Pitt in its biggest game in school history).

However, if you thought (or suspected or even secretly hoped) that Hawaii was actually a legit team -- you were dazzled by the unbeaten record or by Colt Brennan's stats or by June Jones constantly telling you they were -- then you have to take the drubbing Georgia gave them and seriously consider giving the Bulldogs half the national title (the AP half), particularly if you had UGA ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season (as I did).

Dud: Colt Brennan, who was brutalized. He threw 3 INTs, who was sacked 8 times and who lost 2 fumbles. Oh, and he threw for ZERO touchdowns, threw for less than half of his yards-per-game average and even suffered a TKO.

The upshot? Again: Either Georgia's defense is spectacular or Hawaii's offense was overrated. Even if you didn't buy that Hawaii was a national-title contender, you probably respected their pin-ball offensive proficiency; in that case, more points to Georgia, whose defense was even more spectacular than the offense.)

The other (fictitious) upshot: "Playoff" implications. After yesterday, everyone will be talking about what a game it would have been between Georgia and USC. I see it differently:

Yesterday's results repudiate the "Plus-One" idea: Please explain how you would pick two "Plus-One" teams from Georgia, USC and the OSU-LSU winner? That doesn't even factor in Oklahoma if OU destroys West Virginia. (You can't explain how: The Plus-One doesn't work.)

Even a 4-team playoff now looks problematic: If you had picked a PRE-bowls Top 4 for a playoff and you left out either Georgia or USC (which you would have to to accommodate Ohio State, LSU and then-3rd-ranked Oklahoma), you would have been laughably mistaken.

More Bowl Hangover:

Michigan beats Florida in Lloyd Carr's finale: This was my initial reaction to Michigan's emotional, draining victory over Florida. I'll stick with that.

As a college football fan, I feel good for Lloyd Carr and I feel good for Michigan fans; both needed this win really badly. So congrats on that, sincerely.

As a Gators fan, I'm obviously frustrated by a soft defense and an otherwise-explosive offense that turned timid on two game-deciding drives late in the 4th. (But credit a fierce Michigan D with making Tim Tebow's day a tough one.)

Dominance of the Day: USC over Illinois, 49-17. USC set a Rose Bowl record with 633 yards (and tied a record for points scored). It also served as a national coming-out moment for spectacular USC freshman Joe McKnight, who had 170 of those yards.

USC should be a consensus Top 3 team next season (but with a huge early-season game against consensus Top 3 Ohio State). Illinois returns almost everyone, plus a great recruiting class; if Mendenhall returns, they are a Top 15 team in '08.

What a new year for USC: Reggie Bush and Kim Kardashian are reportedly engaged (says OK! Magazine via Page Six). I expect Yahoo Sports to be providing the most comprehensive coverage of the nuptials.

Stud of the Day: Tony Temple. The Missouri RB had a Cotton Bowl record 281 yards rushing to go with 4 TDs in a Tigers win over Arkansas. He did the near-impossible: He eclipsed Darren McFadden (105 yds, 1 TD).

Comeback of the Day: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders scored 17 points in the 4th quarter to beat Virginia, a team that had lived (and now fizzled) by the close games all season long.

Satisfaction of the Day: Tennessee Vols fans, whose team took care of the ball and took care of a tough bowl opponent in Wisconsin (meanwhile, they got a nice bit of schadenfreude watching the Gators lose to Michigan).

Bowls Tonight: Fiesta! Oklahoma vs. West Virginia. OU could have been playing for a share of the national title if they had been matched up with, say, USC or Georgia or even Hawaii (not that the Sooners would want a piece of a non-BCS team in a BCS bowl game again).

Instead they draw West Virginia, a 2-loss national non-factor -- a team without a coach (but still with a hell of a lot of talent on offense). Given the way that Rich Rodriguez ended his WVU career – an ignominious loss at home to Pitt to lose out on a shot at playing for the national title – WVU might be better off without him.

Oklahoma is motivated by a return to their field of ignominy from a year ago. Pick: Oklahoma.

NHL Winter Classic: Very cool (and cold!) The TV ratings still have to be counted, but the game set an all-time attendance record of 71,217, which is astonishing (if not surprising, given the novelty of the game and the passion of the fans in the Buffalo area). The ending was as dramatic as the NHL could have asked for: Sidney Crosby in the final shot of a shootout.

I tuned in from time to time: All in all, a huge success for the NHL. They learn a valuable lesson: When you are a "niche" sport, relevancy comes in one-game or one-day or one-moment bursts, not over the course of a sustained season.

(By the way, that's partly why I constantly refer to the NBA as now qualifying as a "niche" sport: They have the Christmas Day game, the Finals...maybe, the Draft and the occasional intriguing mid-playoff must-see matchup, but those are few and far between. And that's it, as far as appeal to casual fans goes.)

NFL: Chargers GM AJ Smith gets a 5-year extension. He'll outlast Norv Turner, that's for sure.

Reminder: Shanoff reading in NYC tomorrow night! I'm the opening act for Will Leitch and Dave Zirin. It's at 8 p.m. at Happy Ending (302 Broome) and it's FREE. Here's a link to all the info, including a far-reaching pre-event interview that is one of my favorite of all time.

(By the way, I predict you're going to be hearing a lot about Will's book "God Save the Fan" this month. It comes out on January 22, and it's going to be a huge sensation. It's very very good, which helps. Did you happen to catch the Page Six item about it yesterday?)

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Hail to the Victors -- and Lloyd Carr

Wow. That was the best performance I have seen out of Michigan in years... certainly in the last four years of this Michigan senior class that had gone winless against Ohio State and in bowl games.

What a brilliantly coached -- and executed -- game by Michigan. (I can only imagine Michigan fans celebrating, but wondering: Where was that fearlessness all year?)

The image of Lloyd Carr on his players' shoulders will linger well into the Rich Rodriguez Era. Sincerest congratulations to Michigan on a hell of a win in a hell of a game.

(Yes, it's worth revising my prediction from as recently as last week that Florida will either start next season at No. 1... or finish it that way. They will be a contender -- the bitter memory of this loss will fuel plenty of off-season workouts -- but it's a loaded field at the top.)

-- D.S.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Tuesday 01/01/08: New Year's Day Mania!

Happy New Year!

Today's Names to Know: New Year's Day Bowls! Darren McFadden! Tim Tebow! Mike Leach! Chris Long! Ron Zook! Colt Brennan! Knowshon Moreno! (And non-Bowl names: Brian Billick, Randy Mueller, Roger Clemens, Andre Woodson, Jonathan Stewart, Eddie Sutton, NHL Outdoor Mayhem and More!)

Start your new year with this: My annual must-read list of What's "Out" and what's "In" for 2008 – a tradition dating back to the late 90s and a list I have compiled through the years for, and, the last two years, Deadspin. Enjoy!

Settle in, with your New Year's Day elixir of choice...
for fans of teams ending their seasons today (as with fans whose teams have played all month long in other bowls), it's a long way until the 2008 season opener (or, at least, the spring game)...

Outback: Wisconsin vs. Tennessee. Every year Wisconsin plods in, looking like they'll get worked by some high-flying team from the Pac-10 or SEC. And every year, the Badgers pummel their way to a win. Pick: Wisconsin.

Cotton: Missouri vs. Arkansas. One of the nation's most telegenic passing offenses vs. one of its most telegenic running offenses. Catch you last glimpse of Darren McFadden before he takes over the NFL. Pick: Missouri, but I see this as the toughest call of the bowl season. (1 of 32 Confidence Points, if you've been watching the ESPN "Bottom Line" Ticker...)

Capital One: Florida vs. Michigan. Lloyd Carr's final game as Michigan coach, spoiled by the spread effectiveness of Florida and Tebow. Florida comes out of this game as the preseason No. 1 team for 2008. Pick: Florida.

Gator: Texas Tech vs. Virginia. Here's an interesting match-up: The Red Raiders' prolific pass offense vs. the nation's best pass-rushing end (UVA's Chris Long, son of Howie and Top 5 NFL Draft pick in 2008.) Pick: Texas Tech.

Rose: Illinois vs. USC. For Ron Zook and the Illini, it's just about getting to the Rose Bowl that matters. Because this could be uglier than what USC did to Michigan a year ago. (I actually think Illinois gives the Trojans a game.) Pick: USC.

Sugar: Georgia vs. Hawaii. The Bulldogs were my No. 1-ranked team at the end of the regular season, worthy of half a split title if they clock Hawaii. Here's the thing: They won't. I give Hawaii a puncher's chance; if the Warriors go unbeaten, beating many folks' No. 1 team in the process, how about half a national title for Hawaii? Pick: UGA Hawaii, if Knowshon Moreno isn't at full-strength (see below).

To be clear: If Georgia beats Hawaii, even if you think Hawaii isn't that good, I think that the AP voters should give Georgia their share of the national title, leaving the coaches to crown the winner of Ohio State-LSU. If Hawaii beats Georgia, I think the same thing: AP voters should put Hawaii at No. 1 and split the national title.

A split champ: What could be more appropriate for a season like this?

More for today:

Sugar Bowl Update: Georgia's insanely talented RS freshman RB Knowshon Moreno won't start because of an ankle sprain. Remains to be seen how much this affects him, but it's a game-changer.

However: If Hawaii beats Georgia but it isn't a full-strength Georgia, it's just not the same, when it comes to deciding whether to give Hawaii a No. 1 vote. I couldn't support it.

(The whole point of voting Hawaii No. 1 if they beat UGA is that they would be beating the team playing better than anyone in the country at the end of the season; without a healthy Moreno, that's not Georgia anymore -- no real college football fan or "expert" could claim that.)

NHL Winter Classic: I'm not much of a hockey guy, but today's "Winter Classic" (massive outdoor game) is something I will have on the second TV in my house. It's the most clever marketing the league has produced in years (certainly since trying to put the league on YouTube), and it's exactly the type of thing that casual (or non-) fans would tune in for. It's not just a great day for college football fans, but for hockey fans, too.

Ravens fire Brian Billick: This was such a long-time coming that it is almost anti-climax. Still: The guy DID win a Super Bowl title; there's no question that he will find work as a head coach, soon. Meanwhile, all signs point to the Ravens wanting a win-now coach, who will be hamstrung by the team's lack of a reliable QB.

Bill Parcells fires GM Randy Mueller: Hopefully, there's still a seat at the table for him with Insider for the NFL Draft, where he can talk all about taking wide receivers as a reach. (Jeff Ireland, the Cowboys' lead scout and a Parcells guy, is the top name to replace him.)

NFL Draft: I was originally right yesterday (and wrong in the "Update"). The Falcons, Chiefs and Raiders will have a crazy coin-flip in order to determine the 3-4-5 order in the NFL Draft, because they all had the same strength of schedule.

Here's the complexity: The Falcons and Raiders flip for the 3-spot to start. If Atlanta wins, it will go ATL-OAK-KC. If Oakland wins the flip and 3-spot, KC and Atlanta will then flip for the 4-spot.

Where are the Jets in all this, you ask? By beating the Chiefs in OT in the season finale and having a tougher strength of schedule than the other three 4-win teams, the Jets got bumped all the way to No. 6, rather than locked in at No 3.

College Bowls: Auburn nudges past Clemson... Oregon waxes South Florida (Jon Stewart: Sun Bowl-record 253 yards rushing, 2 TDs)... Kentucky survives short-handed Florida State (behind Andre Woodson's 4 TDs and 350-plus passing yards to end a stellar college career)... Cal ends bad season on a good note... Fresno State overwhelmed Georgia Tech early, then ran away... Zac Robinson accounted for 5 TDs and Oklahoma State ended one of the weirdest seasons of the year in college football with a win over Indiana, which endured one of the most difficult seasons of the year in college football.

Clemens Watch: Texas high school baseball coaches sell their soul and approve Roger Clemens as a speaker at their annual convention. You can already see the hedge when they say that they could change their mind if there's a "media circus." Well, no shit there will be.

NBA: Blazers winning streak ends at 13 after a loss to the Jazz. Now we'll see how the young streaky Blazers really respond.

CBB: Eddie Sutton is still two wins away from 800 career wins in his single-minded self-absorbed mission to hit the milestone at the expense of a San Francisco team no one cares about. Wouldn't it be karmic payback if the team, demoralized, didn't win a single game for him?

Meanwhile, Kentucky crushed Florida International to nudge its record under first-year coach Billy Gillispie to a mighty 6-6, just in time for the new year... Xavier earned a really quality "name" non-conference win by crushing Michael Beasley and Kansas State by 26.

Not about sports: One of my favorite newspaper features of the year comes out on January 1. The Washington Post's annual list of what's out and in for the new year.

-- D.S.

Happy New Year!
It's the End of the Worst. Sports Year. Ever.

Happy New Year, everyone. I would argue that 2007 was the worst year that sports fans have seen in a long time.

In the NFL, there was the Vick story, which was the Story of the Year. Baseball had the Mitchell Report. The NBA had the Donaghy scandal. Yep, pretty close to rock-bottom.

But even the "good" stories were problematic:

The Pats going 16-0 was historic, but by comparison made the rest of the league look totally uncompelling. (And the fantasy season SUUUCKED.)

The Red Sox became the New Yankees, insufferably successful, poised for a decade of dominance -- sweeping away the Cinderella Rockies in the process.

The Spurs are the NBA dynasty no one seems to care about at all; a Finals vs. the league's marquee player led to the worst ratings ever.

Florida became the first school to win football and basketball titles in the same season, becoming as insufferable as the Pats or Red Sox. (Especially those damn Gator fans.)

(That's partially why I picked the Florida hoops starting five as my "Sportsmen of the Year": In a year that was so awful for sports, their teamwork stood out for what makes sports great.)

In 2007, two fan bases had make-the-rest-of-fandom-want-to-retch years: Boston fans and Florida Gators fans.

Everyone else?
Pretty shitty, actually.

Here's the thing: On the playing field, 2008 sizes up about the same as last year:

*The Pats? Should go 19-0 en route to another Super Bowl title.

*The Red Sox? Will be the favorites to win another World Series (Go Tigers!)

*The Spurs? Will be the favorites to win another NBA title, over KG and the rejuvinated Celtics (at least offering temporary relief from Boston sports dominance)

*Florida football? Should enter and exit the 2008 season at No. 1, led by the reigning Heisman winner.

Yeesh. The common factor: Dominance. Dominance is not good for sports, no matter what the Patriots' TV ratings might be. Fans need to believe there's a chance another team (their team, or otherwise) can win. Otherwise, what's the point?

The only thing that will redeem 2008 is that it can't possibly match the all-time OFF-field lows of 2007: Vick, Donaghy, Mitchell. Can it?

What were your favorite sports memories of 2007? And what are your predictions for 2008?

-- D.S.

Monday 12/31 A.M. Quickie:
Pats, Playoffs, Short-Shorts, Bowlin', More!

Today's Names to Know: New Year's, Patriots, Wild Card Weekend, Redskins, NFL Draft 2008, Donovan McNabb, Devin Hester, Bowl Mania, Dayton, Jose Canseco, The Wire and More!

Happy New Year! Special New Year's post coming later this morning.

NFL Wrap: If it wasn't for the Pats perfect season, Week 17 of the 2007 NFL season would have approached all-time worthlessness. As it is, the playoffs are set. The team to beat (or not beat, in this case) is established. Let's tee up next week:

AFC: Jags at Steelers, Titans at Chargers. Jags recently beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh and are probably the only hope out there -- and it's still a long-shot -- that the Pats can be beaten (New England has beaten everyone else); San Diego should roll.

NFC: Redskins at Seahawks, Giants at Bucs. Ugh, can you remember a less inspired pair of NFC Wild Card games? What does it say when the biggest intrigue is watching KSK's Unsilent Majority (Redskins uber-fan) and Captain Caveman (Seahawks uber-fan) go at each other all week?

(By the way, after the way I called out the Giants on Friday, I owe them a hat-tip for the way they played to win the game on Saturday. I didn't credit them enough in Sunday's post.)

Honestly, what an lame batch of games in the playoffs -- totally appropriate for what has been the lamest season in recent NFL history, entirely because of the Pats' perfection, though ironically (and infernally) the Pats perfection by itself redeems the season.

Let's say a quick "thanks" to the Browns, who were the surprise success of the season. It's really a shame that Cleveland can end up with 10 wins yet fall short of the playoffs. Even if they had no shot, a playoff berth would have carried massive symbolism, and I'm sure the Titans-Colts game last night was tough to watch, seeing a playoff bid slip away. Here's the thing: So much for rebuilding. Anything less than the playoffs for this team in 2008 would be (and should be) viewed as a failure. 10 wins means wildly re-set expectations.

(The Redskins making the playoffs -- even ahead of Purple Jesus -- is one of the great stories of an NFL season with very few of them. It's a shame the conditions that made it a heart-warming situation. Clinton Portis' somersault into the end zone might just be the image of the year for Redskins fans.)

NFL Draft 2008: Who won when they SHOULDN'T have? Ending a miserable 2007 season on an appropriate note, the Falcons won when they shouldn't have, taking themselves out of a guaranteed spot in the Top 3 and putting themselves into a 4-way scrum for the No. 3 pick in what will likely be a 4-player draft: Good thing the Falcons need a QB. (UPDATE: Apparently, the Falcons earned the No. 3 spot in a tiebreaker. OK. It doesn't excuse the following...)

(So: What's the Jets' excuse for not tanking and ending up in that 4-loss Gang of Four, rather than locked into the No. 3 draft spot? Kansas City ended the season -- 9 straight losses -- like they wanted to EARN that Top 3 draft spot. Well done, Chiefs: THAT'S commitment.)

Season-ending intrigue: Was this Donovan McNabb's final game in an Eagles uniform? Among other offseason storylines for the teams in the league not in the playoffs, this might be the biggest one.

For former playoff teams like the Bears, Saints or Bengals -- or teams that entered the season with playoff hopes like the Broncos or Ravens: Back to the drawing board? Or do you just rely on parity?

(For the Bears, let's hope it's a lot more Devin Hester, who ended his season having established himself as the most exciting player in pro football.)

Marv Levy stepping down as GM of the Bills? The proper response is "Zzz..."

NBA: Lakers go with the short-shorts against the Celtics, then lose. I appreciate the gimmick, I really do. Loved it, actually. It was worth the loss. But despite John Stockton's success wearing them into the new century, I actually think the players had to be feeling out of sorts wearing the shorts early on; it's just such a change from the usual (which they switched back to in the second half). But, as far as entertainment goes, I give the Lakers huge credit.

Blazers win streak hits 13: On December 2, Portland was 5-12. One month later, they are 18-12, riding a 13-game winning streak and tied for first in the Northwest Division. (Sorry, Celtics fans: THIS is the story of the season so far in the NBA. But you can be the Eastern Conference story of the season so far.)

Upon further review: Thanks to some sane commenters, I flip my inane analysis. The Celtics ARE the story of the year in the NBA (the Blazers are the story of the year in the Western Conference). Apologies for the crack-smoking, which I resolve to give up in the new year.

CFB Last Night: Alabama edges Colorado in the battle of 6-6 "name" programs after nearly blowing a 4-touchdown lead. I love that Dan Hawkins plays his own son at QB and doesn't give a crap what you think about that. As for Alabama, needless to say, 7 wins is probably not what they expected when they hired Nick Saban. If they're not playing a little later in the bowl season next year, Saban's $4 million-per-year seat should be a tad warmer.

CFB Bowl Mania: Six bowls on Monday! It's as if people don't need to go to work or something. Here's a preview, in chronological order of their scheduled kickoffs.

Armed Forces: Cal vs. Air Force. AFA can complete Cal's epic collapse from would-be No. 1 to national also-ran.

Humanitarian: Georgia Tech vs. Fresno St. Needless to say, Paul Johnson has bigger expectations for '08 than Humanitarianism.

Sun: South Florida vs. Oregon. This would have been SO much better with Dennis Dixon. Of course, Oregon would be in the national-title game.

Music City: Kentucky vs. Florida St. Worth watching if only to see who FSU puts on the field, with half the team suspended. (Half is hyperbole: It's 19 scholarship players. That's still a ton.)

Insight: Indiana vs. Oklahoma St. One of the season's most heart-warming coaching stories vs. one of its most laughable.

Chick-fil-A: Clemson vs. Auburn. The last bit of appetizer before Tuesday's traditional New Year's Day lineup, which I'll preview in a separate post later today.

CBB Weekend Wrap: Yes, Dayton is very much for real. Given the way they destroyed Pitt, I would put the Flyers as the top contender for a mid-major March run to the Sweet 16.

MLB: Jose Canseco to write a sequel to "Juiced," presumably titled "Juiced 2: Electric Boogaloo." Actually, the working title is "Vindicated." (What: You expected it to be called "Humility?" The irony is that if Canseco had even a minimal bit of restraint, he would be positioned as the hero in this steroids story.)

Congress wanted to reinstate Pete Rose? I can't get behind this story, if only because it involved scandalized former Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, one of the bigger political rascals of the last decade.

TV (Non-Sports): "The Wire" Season 5 season premiere is supposedly going on HBO On Demand TODAY -- a week ahead of the scheduled debut. I can't wait for the return of the greatest drama in the history of TV.

Shanoff reading this Thursday in NYC: Don't forget to save the date Thursday night for a reading event, where I'll be the opening act for Will Leitch and Dave Zirin. That's like Lifehouse opening up for Prince and U2. (Happy Ending, 302 Broome, 8 pm, FREE). Details here.

New Year's Resolutions: I used to make lists of dozens of things I wanted to improve; it all seemed sort of technocratic. For the last few years, I've tried to abide by "Live and let live," with a handful of the usuals (eat better, work out more) thrown in, aspirationally. (Special New Year's post coming later this morning.)

Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for 2008. Be safe.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday 12/30 (Very) Quickie: Pats 16-0!

Obviously, the story of the day/weekend/month/year is the Pats' perfect season, which they ended last night to become the first NFL team to ever go undefeated in a 16-game regular season.

They set a record for points scored in a season by a team. Tom Brady set a record for TD passes in a season. Randy Moss set a record for TD receptions in a season.

Here's the thing: It's all meaningless unless they win the Super Bowl, which they undoubtedly will. It is less a season of perfection than inevitability. But still an accomplishment that no one has ever seen before, and you know how much I appreciate superlative novelty.

(Meanwhile, I misspoke when I said that the Pats losing in the playoffs would be the biggest choke ever. That will forever be held by the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. But the Pats losing in the playoffs would be the biggest choke in NFL history.)

College Bowl Wrap: Penn State rallies... Wake Forest wins "Cindy Bowl"... Croom caps season with a snoozer... Kevin Smith doesn't break Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record...

Coaching Carousel: UCLA hires Rick Neuheisel. So, is there, like, an office bracket over when his first NCAA violation will come out? I'll take early 2009. But the Bruins wanted a "splashy" hire and got one: UCLA will be better.

College Hoops: Dayton throttles Pitt. Wow, I thought Dayton would win, but not by 25. I don't think anyone -- even Dayton faithful -- saw this coming. That said: I think this win puts Dayton on the map as THE mid-major to watch.

More: Winthrop hangs Miami's first loss on the Canes... Wisconsin edges Texas in Austin in the most exciting finish of the day... nice "name" wins for Memphis (over Arizona) and Tennessee (over Gonzaga).

NBA: Hawks get a reality check, winning streak snapped vs. Mavs... Heat get a reality check, keep losing (this time to a Wizards team they have historically owned)... Keep an eye on Kevin Durant's sprained left finger...

More later...

-- D.S.