Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Was 2008 The Best. Sports Year. Ever.?

Was 2008 the best sports year ever?

There is no greater abuser of superlatives than me -- no greater practitioner of "instant history," either.

And even I would call this a stretch. It's funny: These days, every year is the best year ever. I've been preaching that for... well, years.

I will say this: It's easy to throw around superlatives when the year in question included (1) the greatest individual accomplishment in sports history (Phelps); (2) the greatest Super Bowl ever; and (3) the greatest play in NFL history.

Everything else -- the Celtics' title, the Rays (and, yeah, the Phillies), Mario Chalmers' shot and Stephen Curry's tournament, "45-35" and Michael Crabtree's "Catch," Tom Brady's injury and Brett Favre's return -- they were great, but not quite "all-time best-ever."

Or was it?

Wasn't Tom Brady's injury the most shocking ever? Wasn't Crabtree's catch the most dramatic and impactful in modern college football history? Weren't the Rays the greatest baseball Cinderella story of the ESPN Era?

OK: So there were a lot of super-duper-highlight moments. And so 2008's Top 5 was pretty sick; they are all moments that fans will remember for a long time -- in some cases, sport-defining moments.

And that's where 2008 got me: Manning-to-Tyree -- and the Giants' subsequent OMG! upset in the Super Bowl -- feels like a million years ago, but you can't discount just how unbelievably all-time great it was: The single greatest play in NFL history, resulting in the greatest Super Bowl in history.

Phelps feels a little more removed: The Olympics are, well, Olympic, but they are like an asterisk in sports: No one really cares about them outside the two weeks they happen every four years, and the sports with the highest profile -- like swimming -- simply don't resonate otherwise.

That's sort of what made Phelps' accomplishment so epic: He managed to make everyone care. His races were insanely dramatic (and, very very very very importantly, LIVE). He gives good spectacle.

I don't think I was over the top in labeling him the greatest athlete of all time for his performance.

(I would also argue that sports -- basketball's -- place in the mythology of Barack Obama's history-making Presidential campaign was a HUGE sports story in '08. To wit: He was my Sportsman of the Year. I know most of you disagree, so I'll just note it here and move on.)

But if you remove the Olympics and Obama, the year was defined by that single magical play -- "Manning to Tyree." The greatest play ever in the biggest U.S. sports event of the year.

It was so big that, with that single moment as the anchor, we can even entertain the discussion that 2008 was the greatest sports year ever.

I have been writing about sports at the national level every day for the last 6 years. And when people ask if it is hard, I respond that the hard part is saying something fresh -- you can judge for yourself if you think that I manage to pull that off (and at what rate).

The easy part is that just when you think things can't get any more dramatic or any more epic or any more superlative -- there is always something else. It is entirely renewable, virtually daily.

Instant history (and, yes, even "Best. Whatever. Ever." superlative) is a reflection of that. It means that every new twist has a chance at being unique, at capturing our attention.

It is why you can't help but look forward to 2009, even though -- on its face -- the NFL can't possibly compete with last year's best-ever Super Bowl... no athlete's individual accomplishments could possibly compete with Michael Phelps... no Celtics title in '09 could possibly compete with the title in '08... no Rays sustained excellence could compete with last season's Cinderella story... no BCS controversy in '09 could compete with the absurdity of the Big 12 round-robin and "45-35" this year... Stephen Curry can't repeat the novelty of last year's Tourney run... the list goes on.

But with the exception of Phelps -- and even the level of uber-dramatic excellence he reached couldn't quite have been imagined -- and perhaps the NFL, there is plenty of room for more.

Not knowing what it is yet is entirely the point. But it will happen. Years don't make history; moments do. And we can always count on the superlative moments; they are the only thing that we carry with us from old year to new year.

Happy new year everyone. Please be safe tonight, and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2009. I cannot express my gratitude and appreciation for your continued support and attention this year.

Continuing the tradition, tomorrow I'm going to try very hard to publish my annual "What's Hot/What's Not" list for 2009. Stay tuned.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Commenters were all over this point -- I neglected to consider/count two huge events, arguably the best ever in their respective sports: Tiger's US Open win on a gimpy knee and the Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final, widely considered the greatest tennis match ever. Obviously, both of those two things nudge 2008 toward "Best Sports Year Ever." Or maybe they simply affirm my theory that several sports had their Greatest Moment Ever -- not too bad.

Wednesday 12/31 A.M. Quickie:
2008, Shanahan, Cowher, Oregon, LeBron

Was 2008 the best sports year ever? I tackle that in the lead of today's SN column, but I wrote something extra about it last night -- you can find it here at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Meanwhile, good riddance to Mike Shanahan. Choker. And the Jets are better off with Steve Spagnuolo than Bill Cowher. And the Browns need to focus on Scott Pioli before they import Eric Mangini.

(UPDATE: Must-read analysis from Stefan Fatsis via KSK.)

God, is there a more entertaining bowl than the Holiday Bowl? (PS: How good could Texas be if they could barely manage more than half the points that Oregon scored on Oklahoma State?)

Arkansas and Illinois hoops put the nation on notice that they are legit top 25 teams.

Who else is sort of happy that LeBron's birthday was ruined with a loss to the Heat? And what is up with the Celtics? After that 19 straight, are they just packing it in until the playoffs?

Sorry for the short post. Tons to get done before the year ends. And tons more -- seriously: tons -- in today's SN column, found here. Check it out. More at 10:30.

To those not returning later today, happy new year.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Speaking of Terrible 2008 Picks: Matt Ryan

Looking back over the year, perhaps my worst call of 2008 was panning the Falcons for drafting Matt Ryan. It was made all the more glaring today with Ryan being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Here are some of my greatest hits:

*"The Falcons blew it."

*Drafting Ryan "has everything to do with appearances -- and nothing to do with winning."

*"You don't hear anyone listing the Falcons as having a great draft. It's because they didn't, and it starts at the top with Matt Ryan."

*God, even through Twitter: "the falcons will regret taking matt ryan"

It was fitting I was in Atlanta two weeks ago and got to see first-hand just how beloved Ryan has become among Falcons fans -- and just how well he has played in helping the team's turnaround.

Mea culpa.

-- D.S.

NFL Picks: Where I Stand vs. WhereIStand

WhereIStand went back and analyzed 40 "expert" picks for NFL division winners. It's kind of bleak when Mike Greenberg is your champ. For the record, I would have ended up No. 25 out of 40. Sounds about right. That's what you get when you pick the Seahawks to win the NFC West.

-- D.S.

Pick 'Em Champs: M. Dziak, B. Suchek

With the end of the NFL and CFB regular seasons, it's time to congratulate the Daily Quickie Readers pick 'em group winners from football season:

NFL: Mark Dziak's "Kosar's Lament" (99.8 percentile)

CFB: B. Suchak's "RPI Engineers" (99.5 percentile)

Email me directly to claim your prize: A guest-post on (Ooh!)

Bowl Mania Update: Suchak is in 3rd -- either totally surprisingly or totally unsurprisingly. I'm in 23rd, but as with last year, I backloaded my high-value picks until the end of bowl season.

Congrats to the winners -- catch you after Bowl season... and get ready for the annual NCAA Tournament Pick 'Em... still the original and the best.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 12/30 A.M. Quickie:
Pioli, Cowher, Mangini, Mizzou, Georgetown

OK, so I'm over my brief bout with NFL Draft insanity... and, yes, plenty disappointed over last night's Alamo Bowl result. It's tough to out-play a team and still lose.

(As expected, I will spin it in Florida's favor: Northwestern's defense was obviously underrated, but if Missouri's vaunted offense couldn't muster more than it did, what does that say about the Big 12 defenses? I mean, really: Mizzou scored more points at Texas than they scored on NU.)

Anyway, the lead of today's SN column is all about "Black Monday" in the NFL, but I couldn't care less about the coaches -- if you follow the dramatic turnarounds in Miami and Atlanta, they all dovetail with the first-year GMs: Parcells and Dimitroff.

The theory is that a great GM (or head exec a la Parcells) is in a greater position to dramatically alter the fate of a franchise. Dimitroff hired Mike Smith; Dimitroff drafted Matt Ryan. Parcells hired Sparano and directed the team's personnel strategies.

So when you look at the Jets, they seem to think that GM Mike Tannenbaum had no role in the Jets' under-performance. And in Detroit, it's even worse: They promoted the assistant GM to GM and the COO to president. Yeah: It was ALL Marinelli's fault.

That's why the best chance for a Dolphins or Falcons-style U-turn in '09 will come in Cleveland, where they fired both the coach AND the GM, and they sound like they are aggressively pursuing the best GM in the NFL -- New England's Scott Pioli.

And, if the Browns were smart, they would spare no expense to get him. A great GM is worth a lot more than a marquee player or coach (cough-Cowher-cough).

In the rest of the column: More on Northwestern-Missouri (a very good bowl game if you had the chance to watch it), a bunch on Georgetown winning at UConn in one of the great "statement" games of the college hoops season so far. (I caught the first half and flipped back to in the 2nd -- the Hoyas looked very good... the Huskies? Not so much.)

Get it all here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Alamo Bowl Mania: I'll Watch, Will You?

Say this for Northwestern: They generally make their bowl games fun to watch. In most cases, it's because of a porous defense and a pretty good offense.

This year, NU's D was actually its strength. But even a revamped D won't be able to contain Missouri's ridiculous Daniel-Maclin-Coffman spread offense.

What could make it interesting -- if Mizzou doesn't go up 28 after the first quarter -- is that Mizzou's D is hardly hardy; NU could put up points, too.

It is Northwestern's second trip to the Alamo Bowl; in 2000, the Wildcats were absolutely shellacked by Nebraska, 66-17. Some disappointed teams phone it in; the Huskers did the opposite.

Northwestern also appeared in the 2003 Motor City Bowl, where they lost a close one to Bowling Green (and the spectacular Josh Harris), the year after BGSU's Urban Meyer left for Utah.

And who can forget Northwestern's 2005 appearance in the Sun Bowl, where they had a huge early lead (22-0 in the 1st quarter) but lost to UCLA, 50-38, in what was widely regarded as the best non-BCS bowl game of that season.

I have only attended one Northwestern bowl game in person, and it's the only one that matters: The 1996 Rose Bowl, following the miracle 1995 season. Most NU fans put going to that Rose Bowl at the top of their non-marriage, non-birth-of-kid moments in their lives.

(It says a lot that it didn't matter that NU lost to cursed Keyshawn Johnson and USC. Well, ALMOST didn't matter. The loss still stings; if Northwestern had won that game, there is a very good chance they would have finished the 1995 season ranked No. 2, behind that all-time-great Nebraska team... and, ironically, ahead of Florida, which got smoked by those Huskers.)

It also says a lot that in the 13 years since, bowl games for Northwestern aren't a novelty -- they are expected. Now, all they have to do is finally win one.

I have very little faith that this will be the year -- Missouri's offense is just too awesome. But a 9-win season culminating in a bowl game alone in primetime against a team with preseason national-title aspirations is a season for NU fans to be happy about, no matter the bowl result.

-- D.S.

2009 NFL Draft: Who Reaches for Tebow?

The Top 9 picks of the 2009 NFL Draft are set, in this order: (1) Lions; (2) Rams; (3) Chiefs; (4) Seahawks; (5) Browns; (6) Bengals; (7) Raiders; (8) Jaguars; (9) Packers.

So: Who's going to construct the biggest draft reach of the decade and pick Tim Tebow -- and not just pick him in the first round, but pick Tebow in the Top 10? Prediction: Jacksonville.

You think I'm crazy. You read the draft previews that Tebow is a 2nd-round pick, at best. You read the Jags need CB help. I'm just saying that if he comes out -- still an "if" -- he will rise into the first round.

(And if the Jags don't take him -- they would use the Jacksonville native for marketing as much as they would for grooming him to replace David Garrard in 3 years -- the Pats will. Oh yes.)

Because it's never too early for a mock: (1) Andre Smith; (2) Michael Oher; (3) Brian Orakpo; (4) Michael Crabtree; (5) Aaron Curry; (6) Eugene Monroe; (7) Jeremy Maclin; (8) Tebow*; (9) Oh, best available D-lineman.

* - I'm not saying that Sam Bradford isn't a better pro prospect at QB -- or, for that matter, Matt Stafford (although Stafford has a bit of a Grossman look to him). But don't underestimate marketing for a team that struggles with an identity problem as much as the Jags have.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: There's already a response, from a real Jags fan/expert. Very very smart take, particularly if you enjoy seeing me taken behind the woodshed for a beating on the merits (or "merits") of my arguments.

Monday 12/29 A.M. Quickie:
Cowboys, Pats, Super Bowl Picks, Alamania

AM Update: Jets fire Eric Mangini. And you have to wonder whether the decision to import Brett Favre ultimately did him in. Probably that, plus the wild one-year U-turn in Miami. (More expectedly, Romeo Crennel and Rod Marinelli were both fired, too.)

More: Great Freakonomics post about Favre and "deadweight loss" by Stephen Dubner.

So my pick for the Super Bowl is Pats over Cowboys

Wait a second.... In the greatest holiday gift of all, both the Pats (with 11 wins!) and the Cowboys (controlling their own destiny) missed the NFL playoffs. It's a little absurd actually.

And it's a sign of just how powerful these two franchises are -- that their absence is the biggest story of the transition from the NFL's regular season to its playoff season.

That celebration leads today's SN column.

They even eclipse the truly Favrian end to Brett Favre's season -- and perhaps, if we're very lucky, his career: Three picks, including a pick-6 AND that typically idiotic Favre force to end any chance the Jets had of rallying late.

It's not all about schadenfreude: The Panthers look really good (is any RB as hot as DeAngelo Williams right now?); the Chargers fulfilled their epic 4-game comeback at the expense of the Broncos (any other coach besides Shanahan would be fired); the Colts are the hottest team in the league (usually a good candidate for hating...well, we can't have them all...).

And I'm ready to jinx a team by proclaiming them my pick to win the Super Bowl:

The Eagles, who will ride yesterday's momentum to a Giants-like run through the playoffs -- all on the road -- to a Super Bowl title over the Titans. It's been that kind of year for Philly fans.

It's a bit like that Seinfeld episode where George was up and Elaine was down: Boston was up and Philly was down, like, all decade. Now, Philly is up and Boston is down. (Although who, exactly, is Jerry's "Even Steven?")

No, this isn't an overreaction to my absurd mistake in picking the Phillies to lose in the MLB playoffs. Well, maybe a little...

Anyway, it's a loaded SN column today, and I hope you'll check it out here.

Now, get back to work and get ready for Northwestern-Missouri in the Alamo Bowl tonight. NU has this magical history of giving up absurdly prolific numbers to opposing offenses (ask Keyshawn Johnson or Peyton Manning or that Nebraska RB in 2000), and I expect nothing less from Chase Daniel and Mizzou -- one of the most impressive offenses in the country this season.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. Get ready for a week of looking back at 2008 and getting ready for 2009. The leading drama: Will I name 2008 the "Greatest. Sports Year. Ever."? That answer will be coming tomorrow.

(You'll notice that, for the first time since 2001, I did not file a "Night Before Xmas" poem; it is 50/50 that I will publish a "What's Hot/What's Not" list for the new year. I'd like to -- it's annually my favorite column of the year to write, and I haven't missed it since 2001.)

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday 12/28 (Very) Quickie

All fans can really ask for in an NFL season's Week 17 is that it is meaningful in some way.

Partly, that's because your fantasy season is over and you have that much less reason to care. Partly, that's because most teams' seasons are virtually over (no playoffs) and you have that much less reason to care.

*The AFC East is totally up for grabs.
*The AFC West is a bonafide playoff game.
*The Cowboys may or may not make the playoff field in the NFC.
*And the Lions could be the first NFL team to ever finish a season 0-16
-- reason enough for that to have been a "national" game.

(For that last one, I say: Embrace it, Lions fans. Immortality doesn't come easy in sports -- and in 10, 20, 30 years, you'll be proud to say you suffered through this season.)

CFB Bowling: Pat White is one of the great college QBs of the last 25 years. Not only is he the leading QB rusher, but he ended his career an unprecedented 4-0 in bowl games as a starting QB, including yesterday's win over UNC, in which he passed -- not ran -- for a career-high 332 yards. There can and should be an NFL career in White's future.

Meanwhile, speaking of NFL careers, how about Cal RB Jahvid Best, who set an Emerald Bowl record with 186 rushing yards and 2 TDs. Only a sophomore, he should head into 2009 as a candidate for 1st-team All-American (along with Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter and Pitt's LeSean McCoy) and looks like a future NFL 1st-round pick.

Finally, was Florida State better than everyone thought -- or was Wisconsin just that bad?

CBB: God, West Virginia just destroyed (previously unbeaten) Ohio State. At least by what we saw on TV, it seems like WVU should be the team ranked in the Top 20 and OSU should be unranked. Great day for West Virginia yesterday, wasn't it?... Meanwhile, Louisville needed to shake things up; Pitino did (benching starters, elevating young reserves) and the Cards got back on track vs. UAB.

NBA: Well, at least we know the Wizards are better than the Thunder -- sigh. In a battle for the NBA's worst, OKC proved themselves the best (Blake Griffin will make a huge difference)... 7 straight wins for the Magic... 41 for Joe Johnson in a Hawks win over the Bulls (JJ has to be an All-Star, right?)... Say this for the Grizzlies: At least they are competitive (loss to Spurs in 2OT), and I think that has everything to do with the arrival of OJ Mayo (29 pts)... More 2OT goodness: Rockets over Jazz (Ron-Ron: 28)...

Enjoy the last week of regular-season NFL, friends. If your team isn't going to the playoffs, it's a long offseason.

-- D.S.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday 12/27 (Very) Quickie

Well, Tom Brady proposed to Gisele. You can all sleep better now, because I know it was keeping you awake. For a guy who had a truly crappy 2008 - between losing in the Super Bowl to missing virtually all of the 2008 season -- he still managed to be one of the year's biggest winners, with this news. (Say, I wonder what kind of Christmas he had with his, um, baby son?)

Wow, what happened to the Celtics?
It's like the win streak was all leading up to the Lakers game, then when they lost that, they lost a core motivation...

Randy Johnson signs with the Giants: 3 Cy winners in one rotation? You almost have to wonder when they're going to convince Greg Maddux to come out of retirement...

Florida Atlantic beats Central Michigan in the Motor City (aka "Bailout") Bowl: Name to know? FAU QB Rusty Smith, who we might see playing on Sundays.

(Speaking of QBs having good bowl performances, I was called out in the comments recently for not praising Jimmy Clausen -- I should have. He had a monster game. I could say that he was finally living up to the hype and that the bowl game should vault him to a monster season in '09, but he's still being coached by Charlie Weis, right? Also: Brady Quinn. Let's just remember that.)

Heat beat Bulls in post-Xmas hangover game: It was billed as Rose vs. Beasley, but Dwyane Wade (of course) stole the show. And if you had to pick out the most impressive rookie in the game, couldn't you make a case for Heat 2nd-round pick Mario "Superintendent" Chalmers? Without question, the steal of the draft, making plenty of GMs look foolish for passing on him.

T'wolves beat the Knicks: I actually watched a lot of this game (for some reason), and perhaps the Knicks should consider acquiring Sebastian Telfair, because he had a fantastic game in his MSG homecoming.

I also ended up watching some replay of the Isle of Palms high school hoops tournament, from earlier this week, and I happened to luck into seeing Austin Rivers (Doc's son, who was a very early verbal commitment to Florida) of Winter Park (Fla.) H.S., who scored 40-something en route to a tournament win. I also caught a bit of St. Patrick's (NJ) vs. Mater Dei (CA) -- two of the top teams in the country. I couldn't stay up for the whole thing, but St. Pat's looked very good. (They ended up losing to Mater Dei, which stakes its claim as the best team in the country.)

-- D.S.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday 12/26 (Very) Quickie

Well, that Celtics-Lakers game lived up to the hype. The atmosphere was crazy, Pau Gasol scored out of his mind down the stretch and the Lakers snapped the C's 19-game win streak.

Now, like all sports except college football, the win really didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, except symbolically -- that the Lakers ARE ready to challenge Boston for the NBA title.

Kobe's quote says it all: "It's our year." I'm betting that by June, the Celtics have something to say about that. (Will it all come down to who has home-court advantage in the Finals?)

Meanwhile, Suns-Spurs was the best game of the day -- that Roger Mason 3 was tremendous. As a Wiz fan, I am torn about Mason's success, knowing the Wiz could have kept him. (Their first indication they should have should have been that the Spurs wanted him at all.)

Speaking of the Wiz, they put out their standard effort: Great play for 3+ quarters, then folding late. This might have been the worst loss yet -- this was the Wizards' Finals game, the chance to ruin Christmas on national TV for LeBron and Co.

And the Wiz were up 7 in the final minutes, before allowing the Cavs to run off 11 straight in the final 90 seconds to win the game. Mo Williams (24 pts) put on a display why he was the Best Move of the Offseason in the NBA.

The Magic led off the day with a statement win: They throttled the Hornets, who seemed right away like they would have rather been at home celebrating the holiday than playing basketball. Even Chris Paul was shut down -- no steals for the first time forver, snapping his streak at 108.

As I mentioned, I was down in Orlando last Thursday/Friday, and in talking casually with a couple of fans down there, they expressed the feeling that if it wasn't for the amazing start by the Celtics (and Cavs), the Magic's start would be one of THE stories of the season. But it feels buried.

Bowling tonight: Central Michigan vs. Florida Atlantic. Ehhh...pass. Although I'm always up for a chance to watch CMU QB Dan LeFevour.

NBA Today: Bulls vs. Heat. Rose vs. Beasley. (More like Rose vs. Wade.) Oh, and please go to and vote for Joe Alexander as the 4th contestant in the Dunk Contest.

MLB Hot Stove: Derek Lowe to the Mets happening or scuttled? Or just delayed? Does anyone really think he's the missing piece?

More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thursday 12/25 (Very Merry) Quickie

Merry Christmas, everyone. I am on my Nth viewing of "A Christmas Story"...

It's your average slow Christmas morning, but there are a couple of hot-button issues on the table:

(1) Yankees spend big, the 2nd-day revisionism: Was the big spend THAT bad? In fact, was it GOOD for baseball? It depends on how you see the Yankees. Do they say:

"WE are the Yankees." Or do they say:

"We are the YANKEES."

The former implies they are spending for spending's sake; the latter implies, as team prez Randy Levine argued yesterday, that the health of the Yankees is directly tied to the health of baseball. And that spending to make them a contender is good for all of baseball.

He's got a point: The Yankees draw a crowd on the road, boosting other teams' attendance. They drive TV ratings. They actually pay other teams to spend prolifically. Do the Brewers really want a salary cap when they earn so much money directly from the Yankees' spending?

And though the Yankees make a ton of money -- they spend it on the team. Not always wisely, but they spend it on putting out a competitive product. Because it's in the best interests of baseball. Not to CURB the Yankees' spending, but to embrace it.

And I say that as someone who hates the Yankees.

Staying in New York: We can all agree that Brett Favre's latest "Am I retiring or aren't I?" crap is wearying as ever. Let's hope that this season is his last -- although those of us who are Favre-haters are enjoying his INT-fueled implosion to end the season.

But even if he does retire this season, do you actually think that would be it? Or would he take a season (or even half a season) off, then make some sort of glorified "return" to the NFL? After all, he is still a "Pro Bowler" (cough...laughter...cough...)

(3) Notre Dame wins a bowl game...finally! And they won big. And they did it with Charlie Weis in the coaching box calling plays, rather than on the sidelines. And here's what we learned: Charlie Weis should stay up in the coaching box -- not as a head coach, but in his best an offensive coordinator. Unfortunately, last night's win will silence the doubters... at least until he returns to the sidelines and his ill-fitting role as college head coach. (ND is very lucky they were playing Hawaii, with that porous defense.)

(4) Christmas Day in the NBA, as I have said all week, is the NBA's biggest day of the year. They own sports on TV today. And they loaded it up with an incredible slate of games: Chris Paul vs. Dwight Howard; Shaq, Amare and Nash vs. Duncan, Parker and the Spurs; Lakers-Celtics (of course... even a casual NBA fan will likely tune in for that one, especially given the Celtics' insane winning streak); and ending with Cavs-Wiz, where LeBron Worship will reach new levels when the entire arena throws chalk up in the air before the game, in the offputtingly messianic style that LeBron showcases before every game -- here's a prediction: FAIL.

(Oh: Anyone else see the irony of Steve Francis traded from the Rockets to the Grizzlies? I wonder how Stevie Franchise's career would have gone if he had just stayed with the Grizzlies when they originally drafted him?)

More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

List: My Top Sports Books of 2008

Just in time for the holidays, it's time for my annual year-end Best Sports Books of the Year list.

Here is what I know: This may or may not turn out to be the best year ever for sports bloggers publishing books, but it was certainly the best and biggest of the Internet Era so far.

The apex of sports blogging -- arguably -- in 2007 yielded a couple of very high-profile book deals; we finally saw those books published in 2008, and they delivered:

God Save The Fan (Will Leitch): Coda of the most influential sports writer of the decade. (Out in paperback next month.)

Men With Balls (Drew Magary): Bawdy and brilliant, just like KSK and his other online work.

The Macrophenomenal NBA Almanac (Free Darko): The essays are typically terrific, but the real genius is in the book's design.

(And John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy joined the esteemed "Prospectus" annual rotation with their insightful "College Basketball Prospectus" season preview.)

That's not to say there weren't several notable books produced by "mainstream sports media's" finest:

A Few Seconds of Panic (Stefan Fatsis): My favorite "traditional" book of the year, this was a gripping, fascinating read about a guy like you or me in the NFL -- or, more specifically, at its margins.

Big Book of Baseball Legends (Rob Neyer): The latest in Neyer's "Big Book" series, it might be my favorite and his most accessible. Rob is the original online sports columnist -- I was torn by his recent admission into the Baseball Writers Association of America.

I'm sure there were others. And, for one more year, my own book goes unpublished. (I know I've got it in me! Ahh: Maybe '09.)

Put any recommendations of your own in the Comments.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Wow, how could I forget Tom Farrey's remarkable and provocative "Game On!" Loved that book, by my longtime friend and ESPN colleague.

Wednesday 12/24 A.M. Quickie:
Teixeira, TCU, Portland St, Celtics, Plax

UPDATE: I cannot believe I missed Festivus yesterday. I hang my head in shame. Add it to your "Airing of Grievances" about me from this past year that I'm sure happened yesterday.

I have been using this line for months. Now, for the last time, because at this point the phrase has been stretched -- by the Yankees -- to its bleeding edge of reason:

What recession?

The Yankees are making a mockery that we're in a recession/depression/whatever-it-is. I think Hal and Hank Steinbrenner should be named co-Secretaries of Treasury, because they obviously know something that we don't, and it involves massive spending:

It is the Yankees' own version of an economic stimulus package.

One non-playoff season and the team goes absolutely crazy: $140M for Sabathia. $85M for Burnett. Now $180M for Teixeira.

Overreaction much? What happened to last season's plan to implement financial restraint?

Instead, the Yankees have catapulted themselves into a previously unknown stratosphere of payroll spending, not just in baseball, but in all of team sports.

Meanwhile, what a surprise: All we heard was Red Sox-Nats-Orioles-Angels... so much for the crackerjack reporting by the legion of mainstream baseball reporters out there. It's the biggest signing of the offseason, and fans had no heads-up about it. You know? I actually like being surprised. Too much news in sports is a fait d'accompli.

Sure hope they win a championship from all this. I'd hate to see what would happen if they didn't.

(Actually, no I wouldn't. And I think most of us can agree that we are much more intrigued by what would/will happen if they DO miss the playoffs or miss a championship than if they win the World Series.)

Just in time for Christmas: What recession?

All we need to see now is the Yankees signing Manny for a short 2-3 year deal and everything about the Yankees Economic Stimulus Package will be complete.

(And, yet: The Yankees are doing one of the best promotions of 2009. For the April 3-4 exhibition series against the Cubs opening the Stadium, bleacher seats will be a quarter and grandstand seats will be $1.10, the price they were when Yankee Stadium first opened. Yeah, good luck getting your hands on those...)

Poinsettia Bowl: TCU grinds down Boise State. If you watched the first quarter of the TCU-Boise State game, you would have seen Boise in control -- maybe you would have even thought about how high the Broncos could end up in the polls. Then TCU did what they do best: They wore 'em down. They kept it close. They played amazing D. They won the game.

And now TCU stakes its claim as the best non-BCS team in the country -- with only a close loss to Utah ruining its season (UPDATE: Oh, and Oklahoma...I had forgotten, maybe because I don't consider Oklahoma to be on the radar as a great team...jokes!). If Utah gets blown out by Alabama, would you jump TCU over the team that beat them?

For Boise State, they were barely on the wrong end of a spirited effort, keeping them from an unbeaten season and a claim that they should have been in a BCS-level bowl. But I'd say that both Boise State and TCU proved that they are BCS-quality teams. TCU will make the Top 10 in my final Top 25 rankings. Boise St won't drop far.

(Bowling tonight: Notre Dame vs. Hawaii. Pass. I've got a date with Chinese food and "A Christmas Story." With 9 straight bowl losses on their record, Notre Dame can't do much worse. When their offensive coordinator was hired yesterday to coach Miami-Ohio, I found that curious: Wasn't ND's offense this year horrible? Eh: Must have been Weis's fault. I fully support the hiring -- anyone who was the recruiting coordinator at Texas is OK by me. Um: Gene Chizik wasn't the recruiting coordinator when he was there, was he?)

Portland State shocks Gonzaga in Spokane: Know the name -- Jeremiah Dominguez, a 5-foot-6 senior for PSU who just lit up the Zags. He scored 25 points, including an eye-popping 7/10 on 3s. (Great detail: Because of weather issues, Portland State got to the game only 3 hours early and didn't have a shootaround.)

More road goodness: Butler beats Xavier in Cincinnati, which would have been a nice-sized upset to discuss today -- if not for Portland State. (By the way, that's 2 losses in a row for 2 teams that I was demonstrably in the tank for this season. And that doesn't even count Louisville -- my preseason pick to win it all -- losing to Minnesota on Saturday.)

Even more: Wisconsin may not be as good as they have been in years past -- and Texas could be better (even better than the Durant or Augustine teams of the past 2 seasons) -- but Madison is still a hell of a tough place for an opposing team to win. After losing to Michigan State on Saturday in Texas, the Longhorns return the favor in Big Ten country.

Speaking of Big Ten hotness this season (which Wisco wasn't able to hold up), Illinois thumped Missouri last night in the Braggin Rights game in St. Louis. Illinois has owned Mizzou in this series recently, but it's another sign of just how unexpectedly strong the Big Ten is this season.

Celtics win 19th in a row: They have done it so seemingly effortlessly that you forget that they have just accomplished something that no other Celtics team -- not the Cousy/Russell dynasty of the 60s, not the Bird dynasty of the 80s -- was able to do. They are so focused. Tomorrow's game against the Lakers can/should/will be epic.

Full slate of NBA last night: The Lakers seem to be back on track (beating the Hornets), just in time for tomorrow's game against the C's... The Cavs still haven't lost at home (beat the Rockets behind LeBron's 27-9-5, all leading the team)... Yes, that was Rodney Stuckey scoring 40; meanwhile, an injured AI went without a made FG for only the 2nd time in his career... Triple-double for Joe Johnson (20-11-11)... Buzzer-beater: Devin Harris, leading the Nets over the Pacers... God, the Wizards are truly terrible.

Plaxico Update: It actually gets worse! Cops found a cache of weapons and ammo at Burress's house. He is so screwed.

Lance Armstrong is going to have a big 2009: He isn't just going to race in the Tour de France, but he is going to have a baby with his girlfriend, Anna Hansen. Why do I think Lance can afford to hire the help to let him avoid the overnight wake-up fussiness (what? oh, wait: I meant "amazingness") that is new fatherhood.

More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday 12/23 A.M. Quickie:
Bears, NBA Xmas, Bolts-Broncs, Okla, More

So today was my final SN column of the holiday week -- expect expanded coverage here the rest of the week (for those of you still checking your favorite blogs over the holiday).

As such, the column previewed the week ahead:

Was it too much to say that the Broncos are headed for the worst choke-job in NFL history? The gold standard is that 1992 Wild Card game (held in Jan '93) between the Bills and Oilers.

In a way, this is worse: It's not just a collapse in a single half; it's a collapse over the final 3 games of the season. At the same time, the Chargers have had to rally from 4-8 -- if they make the playoffs, that alone is a first. It's not a sexy game, necessarily, but it's as meaningful as it gets in the NFL regular season.

Meanwhile, Bears fans who made it through that frozen OT win last night will probably unthaw this morning feeling good -- but not great. In addition to winning at Houston next week, the Bears need to see the Vikings lose to the Giants... and the Giants have nothing to play for except health of their starters, which means don't expect much more than exhibition-style tuning.

Also this week: The NBA on Christmas Day, which has become an annual tradition on par with the NFL on Thanksgiving and college football on New Year's Day. I'd argue that Thursday's slate of games is as compelling a quadruple-header as the league has ever produced. Celtics-Lakers may set a new high for TV ratings, certainly in the Internet Era.

The college bowls this week are fairly weak -- except tonight: Boise State vs. TCU, in a battle of two teams worthy of the Top 10, two of the Top 3 non-BCS teams, a fantastic offense (Boise) vs. a fantastic D (TCU), and a certain Top 10 finish for the winner (and, if it's Boise State, an unbeaten season). Should be an absolutely awesome game.

College hoops this week is also fairly weak -- tonight's Missouri-Illinois Bragging Rights game is the best of the week. The way the Big Ten is playing right now, don't be surprised if Illinois wins. Is there anything more surprising this season than the success of the Big Ten?

Complete column here. More later. I spent the last 2 days driving from Gainesville to New York City, so there was much time to contemplate.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday 12/22 A.M. Quickie:
Giants, Titans, AFC West, AFC East, Lions

Wow, now that was a great day of NFL. It's really too bad I spent the entire day on the road traveling. Today's SN column can be found here, and it's loaded:

*AFC West: Denver's chokery sets up a Week 17 playoff game.
*AFC East: Schadenfavre AND the Pats don't control their own destiny!
*NFC East: The Eagles totally ruined a perfectly good Cowboys disaster scene.

And that doesn't even consider the top two teams in each conference -- the Giants and Titans -- coming up with HUGE wins over their leading conference rivals.

*God, won't someone please stop the Celtics?
*Southern Miss WR injury: Yeesh.
*Manny to the Yankees today or tomorrow?

Sorry for the short post this morning. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday 12/21 (Very) Quickie

I could complain about the weather in the Northeast ruining my travel plans today, but then I think about Cowboys fans and I realize things could be so much worse.

Dallas fans have no one to blame but their own team -- they controlled their own destiny, then let the Ravens come in and close down their stadium, literally running them over.

The Cowboys' D -- so good a week ago -- was porous when it counted most. Romo TD pass? McGahee TD for 77 on the very next play. Another Romo TD pass? McClain TD for 82 on the very next play. The Ravens wanted it more -- a tough indictment, as Dallas was playing for its playoff life.

Now, Dallas has to go to Philly and beat the Eagles in the season finale, when the Eagles are playing as well or better than any other team in the NFC -- with their own playoff fate on the line. Even then, both the Cowboys and the Eagles could need help.

(Meanwhile, the Ravens control their own destiny -- all they have to do is beat the Jaguars in Baltimore next week and they are in. That makes the AFC East race that much more insane, because it looks like only the division champ will make the playoffs from that group of three.)

College Hoops Amazingness: Of the great batch of games on the slate, who would have guessed that the most intriguing result would come when Minnesota -- still unbeaten -- beat No. 9 Louisville?

UConn-Gonzaga lived up to its billing: An OT thriller with the Huskies coming back from 11 down with 12 to play to beat Gonzaga in Seattle. Locally, I was stuck watching Purdue stifle Stephen Curry to the point that I'm not even sure he can be considered one of the Top 5 players in the country anymore -- 5/26 FG, 2/12 3-pt, 13 pts. Purdue put on a defensive clinic.

Meanwhile, was I saying that Xavier-Duke would be a great one? Hardly. Duke won handily, and even though I'm a hater, I'm ready to call it a Statement Game for Duke. Instead, at 2, it was that Michigan St-Texas game that was the thriller. And another "statement" win, this time for MSU... Finally, Player of the Day honors weren't even won until the evening, when Jonny Flynn scored 24 with 6 assists and Syracuse (without Devendorf) went down to Memphis and beat the Tigers.

CFB Bowl Mania Studs: Colorado State RB Gartrell Johnson, who had 285 yards rushing (2nd-most ever in a bowl game) and 375 yards combined rushing and receiving (which WAS an FBS bowl record). And South Florida QB Matt Grothe, who had 236 yards passing (with 3 TDs) and 83 yards rushing, to become -- temporarily -- the Big East career total offense leader. (At least until Pat White takes it back later this week.)

NBA: Is LeBron leaning toward re-signing with the Cavs early, based on this amazing start? More likely, he is playing Cavs fans -- teasing them with the prospects, knowing that he doesn't want them eyeing the team's amazing start with the cynical view that he could be gone in 2010. I'm sure LeBron is simply manipulating the p.r. here, just as sure as I am that he is still as good as gone in 2010.

(Meanwhile, yes, the Celtics are sick, but my pick of the Magic as East champs isn't that far off, based on the way they beat back the Lakers -- Kobe had a season-high 41 -- in Orlando. Yes, LA was playing a back-to-back after that fight in Miami on Friday night. Still, a big win for the O.)

Stay warm and/or dry and/or out of the nasty weather today, folks.

-- D.S.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday 12/20 (Very) Quickie

I can't believe Lou Holtz and I were in Gainesville at the same time and I didn't spot him around campus yesterday, let alone hear him give a patented "Dr. Lou" pep talk to the football team...

Bowl season starts today with a quadruple-header -- did you enter the Bowl Pick 'Em group? You missed the cut-off for Wake-Navy, but you can still get in.

UPDATE: Wake rolls, as expected.

Meanwhile, what a four-game group of hoops today, headlined by Xavier-Duke -- a must-see. But all four are pretty must-see, especially to store away for picks in March.

UPDATE: Wow, Duke is just kicking Xavier's ass all over the place. Did NOT expect that. Hey, at least Texas-Michigan St. is competitive. Gonzaga-UConn and Davidson-Purdue -- both Sweet 16 or Elite Eight quality matchups -- run at 4.

Wade trumps Kobe. Celtics win 17th in a row. St. Thomas Aquinas will be the national champ of high school football. Richmond wins the 1-AA football national title. More later.

UPDATE: What is it about the Auburn-Iowa State connection? First Chizik is hired from ISU to Auburn; now, former Auburn DC Rhoads is hired to coach Iowa State.

-- D.S.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday 12/19 A.M. Quickie:
Bowls, Peyton, Hansbrough, Roy, More

I'm not complaining, but I just need to recount my travel this week:

I spent the weekend in Atlanta (missed both LeBron playing the Hawks and the Falcons beating the Bucs in OT, though I did get an up-close look inside the Georgia Dome), then caught a 6 a.m. flight Tuesday to Denver.

Three days of Mountain Time Zone goodness (though missing LeBron at the Pepsi Center tonight), then I flew out of Denver last night in the snow to Orlando, where I battled delayed flights and car rental fun to my brother's house for about 4 hours' sleep (missing the Magic hosting the Spurs last night AND the Florida 5A high school football title game tonight at the Gator Bowl, which could be a de facto national-championship game).

Then today's SN column filed early this a.m. from his office, then into the car for a drive up to Gainesville 'til Sunday (alas, no Gator hoops games scheduled while I'm in town, although I'm holding out hope that if I wander over to The Swamp, I'll have a TT sighting.)

Again, I'm not complaining. But it's been a crazy week. Though I will say this: Greeting my kids for the first time since Monday -- it was the longest I had been away from them in a while, certainly the longest I had been away from No. 2, who seemed to grow in 3 days -- was amazing.


Is Peyton Manning this season's NFL MVP?

Is Tyler Hansbrough the best player in UNC history?

Is there a better day of college hoops this regular season than tomorrow?

Is any NBA player going to have a better game this week than Brandon Roy had last night?

Is there any more fun to be had than trying my Bowl Quiz?

Is it worse for NASCAR to have the publicity from that lawsuit or to have drivers test positive for PEDs?

(Longtime readers know the old match-sponsor-with-bowl-name format; this year, I mixed it up a bit, inspired by some of the more ludicrous names and sponsorship situations. For example, is GMAC asking for taxpayer dollars while sponsoring an eponymous bowl? Really?)

Complete SN column here. More later, hopefully. Probably some Twitter activity from around Gainesville, if I can manage it.

-- D.S.

CFB Bowl Mania -- Last Chance!

Last chance to sign up for the CFB Bowl Pick 'Em -- groupname: Daily Quickie Readers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday 12/18 A.M. Quickie:
Celtics, Favre, Tebow, Baugh, CP3, More

Now that they have that pesky first title behind them, the Celtics can focus on making history -- I would hope that is what is motivating them at this point, tying the NBA record for best start after 26 games. And they have ripped off the last 16 (straight) wins so effortlessly (though the Hawks gave them a hell of a game -- as usual!) that numbers like "72" don't seem unreasonable.

Celtics and Sharks (who ruined a perfectly good storyline by losing last night in OT) lead today's SN column.

There's also some stuff in the column about a weariness with Brett Favre (go figure!) and Tim Tebow's NFL draft prospects (actually relevant this time!), but both are eclipsed when you take a deep dive into the career of Sammy Baugh.

Instant History demands that we not look too closely at players like Baugh -- hell, I can barely remember what happened last month -- but when you read the obits, the guy was about as revolutionary a player (certainly as revolutionary a QB) as ever played the game.

All these historical rankings that put Brady and/or Peyton and/or Montana and/or Elway ahead of Baugh (even the ones that put Unitas ahead of Baugh -- usually at the top of the list, actually), they all need an asterisk that those QBs wouldn't exist without Baugh's influence on the game.

What baffles me is that we're talking about a player for whom if you aren't at least 70 years old (and if you're over 70 and reading this blog PLEASE email me), you have no active memory of the guy. You may have seen clips. You may have heard his name. But it's not the same.

It's easy to put Tom Brady in a pantheon -- the era in which he played is remarkable for nothing as much as the 24/7 hyper-access we had to following him, which inflates his value -- but let's tip our caps and have a moment of thought for Slingin' Sammy.

Travel day today, so posting might be light until tonight. Complete SN column here.

-- D.S.

2008 Sports Blogger of the Year Tourney:
And the Seeding Is...

Not seeded! It's mid-December, and nothing delivers link-bait like the navel-gazing of a Sports Blogger of the Year tournament. Kudos, Busted Coverage fellas.

(No, I'm not bitter that this year I didn't make the Ballhype-generated cut into the Top 64 -- wait: you mean a blog obsessed with Tebow and Obama isn't one of the 64 most linked-to? Get out!)

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Obamaball: Time Person of the Year
(Time Can't Help But Copy Me, Obviously)

So Barack Obama isn't just the Sportsman of the Year, but he is Time Person of the Year (shocker!).

Great sidebar article by Obama brother-in-law Craig Robinson, specifically about basketball with Barack.

Obama's love of hoops is one of his most defining characteristics -- all the more reason to tap him as Sportsman of the Year, right?

-- D.S.

Obamaball: Arne Duncan, Sec'y of Hoops?

Arne Duncan isn't just our newest Secretary of Education -- he might be the best basketball player in the history of high-level federal government. Certainly among Cabinet-level appointees.

Henry linked
to this must-read about Duncan's hoops past. And H.A. coined an amazing little line: "Basketball is the new golf."

As a bonus, Duncan is a huge proponent -- like Obama -- of infusing billions of dollars into early-early-childhood education, which could radically improve our country's future.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 12/17 A.M. Quickie:
JoePa, All-Americans, Pro Bowlers, More

Penn State is sort of like the banking industry a few years ago -- there's an upheaval coming, but they keep wanting to push it off. JoePa is the lead of today's SN column.

Sure: Give the 82-year-old (on Sunday!) a 3-year contract extension. Maybe it's all a facade to let him go on his terms, because I cannot imagine him coaching at age 85.

I don't want to get into a debate about whether he is an able coach -- obviously, he did something right this season (likely, letting his assistants do everything).

But at what point will Penn State let him go and begin a new era? "Coach-in-Waiting" doesn't seem to be an option -- but Penn State is the optimal place for it to happen, isn't it?

Really, what I should have led with was a comparison of college football's "All-American" team and the NFL's "Pro Bowl" accolade.

Frankly, I like the NFL's system better -- a combination of fan vote, player vote and media vote. The AP (or SN) All-Americans are media-only -- as if fans couldn't pick an A-A team?

College A-As feel like splitting hairs -- if you're only picking 2 WRs or 2 RBs or one "all-purpose" player, can you really decide between the 2 guys on the first team and the 2 guys on the 2nd team (or even 3rd team)?

College hoops long ago dropped the mandatory G-G-F-F-C construct; it was the best five players. I recognize that football can't do that, but I'd certainly like to see 4 WRs on the first team, rather than 2 -- most teams run that many WRs. Or both a "drop-back" QB and a "dual-threat" QB.

I don't know -- it just seems kind of ludicrous.

Of course, not as ludicrous as Brett Favre being a Pro Bowler. Or 7 Jets. (7!) And, at some point, MLB's system of requiring at least one All-Star from each team begins to make sense. How can you leave Calvin Johnson out of the Pro Bowl?

The good news for the snubbed is that the biggest tradition of the Pro Bowl is NOT playing in the Pro Bowl. Maybe if/when they move the game to the week before the Super Bowl, rather than after it, fans will tune in -- and players will have interest.

Also found in today's column: Lamar Odom! Chris Paul! Padraig Harrington! Turner Gill! Urban Meyer! DeMarco Murray!

Find it all here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tim Tebow's NFL Potential:
Mel Kiper vs. Bill Belichick

Tim Tebow's NFL potential?

Mel Kiper isn't a fan (at least as a QB.)

Matt Hinton asks "Why not?"

MJD says "That's why."

As for me, I think, at worst, he can have an impact with a coach who is willing to go crazy with the Wildcat: Let your "game manager" QB get you to the 15; let Tebow do the rest. At the very least, how about using him innovatively; he doesn't have to take a lot of snaps to have a big impact (see Florida's 2006 national-title season).

At best, I think Tebow can be an NFL starter; don't underestimate the ability of NFL coaches to turn unpolished passers with big size and mobility into NFL starters. As always, it will totally depend on the context he is drafted into -- coach, team around him, etc.

I stand by my prediction that Bill Belichick will draft Tebow, then unleash him. (I wouldn't be surprised if Belichick made it clear through back-channels -- perhaps Beli BFF Urban Meyer -- that the Pats won't let Tebow slide past them in the 1st round.)

BTW: I find Kiper's gold standard of "pure NFL pocket passer" as Matt Stafford to be laughable. Two words: Rex Grossman. I spent all weekend in Atlanta and Stafford came up a lot. Someone tell me how Stafford isn't the next Grossman -- a strong-armed dummy.

Instead of calling Tebow "the next Eric Crouch" (or "next Frank Wycheck" -- where the "W" stands for "WTF?!"), why not call him the next Donovan McNabb?

-- D.S.

UPDATE: WSJ's Allen Barra on Tebow's bonafides -- if not as an NFL player than as arguably the greatest college football player of all time. BTW, for the commenter who said Tebow didn't stack up to Donovan McNabb statistically, you were right: Tebow is actually superior in all the stats you cited -- yards per attempt, passer rating... let's not even count TDs, TD/INT ratio, yards-per-carry, rushing TDs, etc. As good as McNabb was in college, Tebow is -- statistically -- much better.

Early-Morning Travel Sucks

Didn't file an SN column this morning AND didn't get a chance to update the blog. Very very very quickly:

*The rest of the NFC better hope the Eagles don't make the playoffs...

*That shot by Cleveland State was incredible. "Buzzer-beater" doesn't do it justice...

*Barkley on Auburn/Chizik: I don't disagree with him...

Gotta jump. More tonight. Back as usual in the a.m.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday 12/15 A.M. Quickie:
Cowboys, Steelers, AFC East, Tarvaris, More

Ahh: All is right in Cowboysville -- at least for this week. That's what a decisive win over the Giants will do for a drama-intensive Dallas squad and that makes for my SN column lead today. Of course, there are still 2 weeks -- with the toughest final pair of opponents of any NFC Wild Card contender -- left in the season.

Still on the road in Atlanta -- had my first-ever Chik-fil-A on Saturday, in fact -- so it's a light post this morning. The column is loaded with everything you'd expect about yesterday's NFL: Cowboys, Steelers (Ravens were robbed!), Tarvaris! and more.

-- D.S.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sam Bradford Wins Heisman

Sam Bradford wins the Heisman, not a big surprise - as was the strange balloting that saw Tim Tebow earn the most 1st-place votes, yet finish 3rd. Congrats to Bradford and Oklahoma fans; see you in Miami. - D.S.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Saturday 12/13 (Very) Quickie

Wow, I miss College Football Saturdays. Very much.

Heisman tonight: Still too close to call.

Yankees sign AJ Burnett: Wow. What recession?

(By the way, it's going to be even funnier when they don't make the playoffs with CC and AJ in the rotation. Over-under on Burnett's injury-free starts: 10.)

Brandon Jacobs out tomorrow vs. Cowboys and the Cowboys deny there are massive problems in their locker room: You know things are bad if the Giants are saying, "Man, you guys got problems."

Celtics win 14th straight: Beating the Hornets is no joke.
Cavs win 11th straight: I'll be in Atlanta tonight, but won't get to see them, unfortunately.

1-AA Playoffs: Montana edges top-seeded James Madison in semis.

Syracuse hires Doug Marrone: Great hire. You want an alum. They have the kind of energy for the program that can't be imported from the outside.

Will Muschamp denies talking with Auburn: I have said this for a while. I know Muschamp is a stand-up guy and committed to Texas, but what does Auburn have to lose by offering him $3-4 million a year?

(From Texas' standpoint, they'll get Muschamp back as soon as Mack Brown retires anyway -- could be one year, could be three or four. Aren't they better off with him getting experience as an actual head coach, rather than as a head-coach-in-waiting? That's cynical, but - hey - it's a cynical business.)

On the road all day traveling. Will post again tomorrow a.m.

-- D.S.

Friday, December 12, 2008

College Bowl Pick 'Em: Sign Up Now

Groupname: Daily Quickie Readers. Join on in!

Inside Baseball: Rob Neyer in the BBWAA

Hey, that only took 13 years, for the most influential baseball writer of the Internet Era (1995-Present). Cripes: I realize I have known Rob for 12 years. God, I was a yippy young pup back then.

-- D.S.

On Heismans, Vince Young, Tim Tebow and Elements of College Football Immortality

Tying up some thoughts from yesterday and today, heading into the Heisman reveal tomorrow:

For all the Tebow slobbering I do, it's widely overlooked that I put Vince Young at or very very near the top of my "best CFB player of the last 25 years" list.

(Yes, even ahead of Tommie Frazier, who -- make no mistake -- was awesome. But just about as one-dimensional as you get. And while that '95 Nebraska team was arguably the Greatest Team Ever, it wasn't all because of Frazier. But if you're wondering, yes, I put Frazier in the Top 5.)

But, to reiterate: "Best ever" is derived, more than any other single factor, from mythology. But mythology itself is fairly complex.

The lesson of VY is that mythology isn't made from merely winning the Heisman. The Heisman is a resume item, which folks can break out to make the argument that so-and-so is among the best ever.

But championships matter. Playing big in big games matters. Stats matter... sort of. (You don't remember how many total yards VY had; you do remember that he had 500 yards of offense against USC. You don't remember Tebow's precise totals from last year; you know he was the first-ever to be a "20/20" player.) Which supports the following:

The transcendent talent you can see with your own eyes matters (like VY scoring against USC in the NCG). "Storyline" matters (Tebow's "Promise"; Tebow's handy circumcision work, representative of his larger philanthropical angle; he just won that "most inspirational" award).

Is it fair to credit Tebow with "well, he's already won one national title" in the same way Young has? Hardly. Young carried that UT team in a uniquely spectacular way; to his credit, Tebow was the offensive MVP of that Florida title team, even in limited action. But it's not the same.

I think everyone -- including Tebow -- knows that Tebow needs to be THE guy on a national-title team to truly rise to the top, or even the top tier. Consider how much he has been elevated simply by leading Florida to that comeback win over Bama in the SECCG.

Winning a national title as a freshman (and having a powerful role in it) and becoming the first player ever to win the Heisman as a sophomore opened up never-before-seen possibilities for Tebow this year, especially with a better team around him. From the debacle against Ole Miss to the Promise to the performance after that, the myth is elevated.

If he does win the Heisman -- or, more accurately, if he does win the national title (see the VY Corollary that you don't need to win the Heisman to be immortalized) -- the resume -- no, the mythology -- is stuffed so ridiculously that he elevates into that "Best Ever" conversation almost by default.

Where it gets more intriguing is whether -- realizing that he won't be a first-round NFL pick -- he comes back to Florida for his senior year.

(The NFL, amusingly, doesn't give a crap about college mythology, and the NFL teams that do -- see Vince Young -- usually make a terrible pick; there are exceptions, obviously -- see Barry Sanders -- but among QBs, mythology is almost always a terrible indicator of future NFL success.)

There has been some talk -- wishful thinking, more like it -- on Florida message boards about Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes all wanting to come back next year to make a run at real immortality: An unbeaten season (the first in Florida football history) and status as one of the greatest teams of all time. (Hey, it worked for the basketball team.)

If that happens, we're in truly uncharted territory and Tebow has a shot at permanent placement above all the other college football immortals. I don't think it will happen: Spikes is a 1st-rounder, and you don't waste that in football. Harvin is a likely 1st-rounder AND has a history of injuries; he better get into the pros now. Tebow could work his way into the 1st round (I'm convinced Bill Belichick schemes to take him) AND he just lost his mentor, Dan Mullen, AND if he wins the national title, what more can he do? (I think there's a part of him that thinks that leading Florida to an SEC title is already enough.)

Obviously, the notion that Tebow is, already, the greatest college football player ever is premature, at best. (And I'm obviously so biased as to disqualify the entire argument an irrational one.) In fact, it's fairly stupid to discuss it before Jan. 9. But he's already in the discussion -- with your Vince and Tommie and Herschel and Barry and Bush -- as being among the greatest ever. That's a hell of a thing before you've completed 3 full seasons.

It's all about the mythology.

-- D.S.

Friday 12/12 A.M. Quickie:
Heisman, Bears, Celtics, Hot Stove, More

The Heisman situation -- or, more accurately, figuring out which player is the "best" in the country -- is as convoluted as the recent BCS snafu. I laid it out in today's SN column, but I'm going to re-publish it here, because last night's awards were so strange:
*Tim Tebow won the Maxwell, the poor man's Heisman, for being nation's most outstanding player, ahead of finalists Colt McCoy and Graham Harrell -- even though Tebow is projected to finish 3rd in Heisman voting.

*Sam Bradford, the leading Heisman contender, won the O'Brien as the nation's top QB -- but he wasn't even a Maxwell finalist.

*Colt McCoy was named Walter Camp Player of the Year.

*Graham Harrell was a finalist for both the Maxwell and O'Brien, yet apparently wasn't good enough to invite to New York as a Heisman finalist.
(Total crock.)

So who will win the Heisman? As last night's spray of results showcase, it is as wide open as any Heisman voting ever.

With less than 20 percent of ballots publicly available, it looks like Bradford will win the Heisman and McCoy will come in 2nd, although -- oddly -- Tebow will earn more 1st-place votes than either of them.

(That indicates that Tebow is going to be left out of the Top 3 on an inordinate number of ballots. Are we seeing "Tebow Fatigue?" How strange, given that last night he won the "Spirit" award as the nation's most inspirational player; isn't that supposed to be a GOOD thing? It's not like he's Matt Leinart.)

There is a case -- a strong one -- to be made for all of them. I guess if there was some solace to offer the runners-up, it would be two words: "Vince Young." VY never won the Heisman, yet is still widely regarded as the best player of the last 25 years.
You might be wondering if I'm going to camp out at the Nokia Theater in Midtown Manhattan tomorrow night to watch/stalk the Heisman ceremony in person. Unfortunately, I'll be out of town, watching it on TV. I find it so odd that Tebow will likely get the most 1st-place votes but will still likely come in 3rd.

Anyway, the Celtics are sick. And you know how much I liked to rip them last year during the playoffs. Well, they are better this season. If they were on a "title-or-bust" mission last season, what the hell are they doing this season? Do they want to crack 70 wins? 75 wins? Ray Allen is on fire. Rajon Rondo is an All-Star. It's ridiculous.

The Saints are out of the playoff picture in the NFC, but -- hey -- at least Drew Brees was the leading vote-getter for the Pro Bowl! And the offensive coordinator is so valued that he got the head-coaching job at Syracuse! May want to practice that pass-defense by the DBs, though.

Short a.m. post today, but you can get it all in the SN column. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Questions On The Table, Part Nth

(1) Who was the best player in college football this season, regardless of position?

ANSWER: Andre Smith

(2) Who is your favorite college football player of all time?

ANSWER: Tim Tebow (well, at least mine)

(3) In picking the best college football player(s) ever, what criteria should be used (i.e., stats, W-L, titles, Heismans/awards, mythology)

ANSWER: Mythology is the No. 1 criteria (see Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Herschel Walker)

Each of those questions could probably make for an epic post and conversation. Isn't it nice to cram them all into one single post?

-- D.S.

Thursday 12/11 A.M. Quickie:
Heisman, Melo's 33, Hot Stove, Bears-Saints

College Bowl Pick 'Em group is now open! Sign up now!

The Heisman race is as close -- and contentious -- as it has ever been
. At the very least, and I make this clear in today's SN column, I hope Tim Tebow voted for himself... given the regional bias, there's no guarantee he wasn't inexplicably left out of the Top 3 on plenty of ballots throughout Big 12 Country.

The Heisman finalists are set: Tebow, Bradford and McCoy. I know those are the Top 3 vote-getters, but the Heisman Trust couldn't invite Graham Harrell and, say, Michael Crabtree? In the case of the Heisman, "getting to New York" (the equivalent to the Oscars' "honor just being nominated") is a big deal, and they should be more inclusive, not less.

The vote appears too close to call. Unless all voters publicly reveal their ballots -- and, by the way, they should; there should be nothing "secret" about this balloting -- we won't really know until Saturday night.

From early voting patterns available at -- collaborative, open-source Heisman reporting if ever there was (that guy needs to set up a Wiki of known ballots) -- it looks like it will be Sam Bradford. Intriguingly, Tim Tebow will net the most 1st-place votes, but there are a fair number of ballots where he doesn't even appear in the Top 3 (including the Heisman "fan vote") -- hmm... Tebow Fatigue? Undoubtedly.

I'm sure this will shock you, but my vote would go to Tebow. But remember, before the season, I thought he had no chance; as recently as last Saturday, I don't think he had clinched it, but the SEC title game clinched it for me.

I'll dig into this later, because I was thinking a lot about it last night, but I'm trying to separate "Tebow is MY FAVORITE college football player ever" from "Tebow is the best college football player THIS SEASON" from my opinion that "Tebow is THE BEST college football player ever." There's a lot intertwined in there.

Meanwhile, Putz and K-Rod may be the best set-up/closer combo in MLB. But sounds like Putz doesn't want to BE a set-up guy.

More Hot Stove: Did the Nats offer Mark Teixeira 8Y/$160M? Is that enough to get him? (Cripes: How crazy is his market if that would be considered taking a "hometown discount.") As a Nats fan, I'm torn: I love the idea of them having a franchise player; I hate the idea that they are paying so much for him. What's wrong with the way the Rays built their team? I don't need to win now (especially at bloated cost) -- I need to see that there is progress and improvement... a plan.

Carmelo scores 33 in a quarter: It's not quite 81 for a game, but it's pretty freaking impressive. Hasn't been matched in 30 of years, so Melo out-did Jordan, Bird, Iverson, Kobe... any of the scoring machines of the 80s and 90s. I think this needs more appreciation.

NBA Trade Mania: Jason Richardson on the Suns is intriguing, when you line him up next to Amare and Steve Nash. Not sure what the Bobcats are doing, but isn't trading J-Rich a bit of a repudiation (yet another repudiation) of Michael Jordan's skills as an executive? Wasn't acquiring Richardson his Big Move? Seriously: Worst NBA Exec Ever.

CFB: Dan Mullen to Mississippi State. Look, he's young and has never been a head coach before, but he is Urban Meyer's No. 1 protege and he is the mentor of Tim Tebow. And he's getting his first crack at being an HBC in the SEC, which is rough, but big-time.

College Bowl Pick 'Em: Sign up now! Group name Daily Quickie Readers -- no password necessary. See if you can knock off the defending champ... that would be me.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

College Bowl Pick 'Em Challenge:
Daily Quickie Readers Group Open!

It's that time of year: This year's College Bowls Pick 'Em group has been set up. You know how it goes: find the groupname Daily Quickie Readers, open to anyone.

So join on in -- and tell your friends. It's always fun to see the DQR on the leaderboard in total participants.

Oh, and do you remember who won the competition a year ago? (Forgotten already? Me. Yes: Me, in my finest hour of my prediction career. Bring it on, friends. I'm ready to defend my title.)

-- D.S.

Florida OC Dan Mullen to Mississippi State
UF DC Charlie Strong to Central Florida?

Yup, saw it. Not unexpected. Good for him. Tough gig. For the record, there were plenty of moments in the past 4 years when I yelled at an unimaginative call in frustration: "WTF?! Mullen!" Look for WR coach Gonzalez to be promoted to O.C. and for Tebow to stay, despite the fact that he and Mullen are tight. Impact on the NCG? Unclear. Presumably, Mullen is a bit distracted.

How I Ruined Matt Ufford's Fantasy Season

Read the whole hilarious thing here. Here's the money quote, from C.C. himself:
Week 8: I’m up against Shanoff, who notoriously sucks at fantasy. When I find out that his starting WR Santonio Holmes will be sitting out after his pot bust, I taunt him over email. His sincere response is “Thanks! I wouldn’t have realized it otherwise!” He starts Kevin Walter in his place, who gets 70 yards and two TDs as Shanoff — who didn’t even start a kicker or defense — beats me by three points. Also, I start Jeff Garcia instead of Warner. I fucking hate myself.
My 2008 season highlight, by far.

-- D.S.

Heisman Watch: Too Close To Call?
Bradford, McCoy, Tebow In a Battle

I wanted to pull a Nate Silver on the Heisman voting, but oh well. Stick with for updates on how individual ballots are coming in.

Here's how close it is:

*'s final straw poll went to Sam Bradford.

*The longstanding Scripps Howard straw poll went to Colt McCoy.

*If you dig into the numbers, Tebow is leading in first-place votes among declared voters, but Bradford is still the projected winner, by a small margin well within a margin-of-error at this stage of revealed ballots.

*The official Heisman fan vote -- which you know is near and dear to me, despite only counting for 1 vote out of 870 voters...totally preposterous -- was intriguing: Fans picked Colt McCoy by a smidgen over Sam Bradford, with Javon Ringer in 3rd (way to stuff the ballots Michigan State fans!), Graham Harrell 4th and Tim Tebow 5th. (Tebow backlash much?)

In other words: Too close to call. And that's a good thing. Isn't this a lot more fun with the ending as unpredictable as it has ever been?

Voter geographic bias is a funny thing; these voters are supposed to be unbiased experts, yet you constantly see them breaking toward players in their home region. Rare is the Oklahoma-based writer who will say, "You know what? I think Tebow is better." It's some old-school homerism, right there. (Absurdly, Mark Kiszla gave Zac Robinson his No. 1 vote.)

That makes the regional voting patterns more intriguing: Bradford and McCoy are splitting votes in the Midwest and Southwest. The only question is whether voters are putting them 1-2, in one order or another, leaving Tebow 3rd (or even 4th, behind Graham Harrell). Or whether there is a decisive winner between Bradford and McCoy, with Tebow earning 2nd-place votes.

And for one more week, the virtual tie between Oklahoma and Texas will impact college football.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 12/10 A.M. Quickie:
CC, K-Rod, Curry, Cavs, Heisman, More

OK: So the Yankees snagged CC Sabathia for 6Y/$140M. And the Mets got K-Rod for 3Y/$37M. That hot Hot Stove action lead today's SN column (totally undercutting an awesome lead I had about Heisman voting, which got bumped to tomorrow).

Anyway, here comes a "when not if" inevitability: One -- or both -- of those signings will be a big fat huge mind-numbing FAIL. Probably from injury.

The question really is: Which one is it more likely to happen to? Both are in their prime, but both have had their arms thrown off for a couple of guys in their mid-to-late-20's.

If you think both will end up underperforming in some way, I'm going to go with CC getting injured and K-Rod simply not delivering when it matters.

Meanwhile, speaking of delivering when it matters, did you catch the end of the Davidson-WVU game at MSG last night? All game long, Stephen Curry was contained -- WVU's defense forced him into missed shot after missed shot.

Then, in the last 5 minutes, he absolutely took over. 3. Jumper. 3. 3. The 2 FTs were just icing. And a Davidson deficit became a high-profile win, thanks to Curry's late-game awesomeness.

I'll get into Heisman stuff tomorrow, but with ballots due today, I wonder who Tim Tebow voted for? Let me scoop myself tomorrow: I hope he voted for himself. What: Like he's supposed to vote for Bradford or McCoy, even though I'm sure he thinks he is the better player?

I'm going to end up writing 500 words on this right now before I even take a breath, so I'll cut it off there. But just prep that tomorrow, we'll discuss who should win the Heisman. Today, it's who should Tebow have voted for.

NBA Last Night: Who had the Kings beating the Lakers? Meanwhile, yeah yeah -- the Cavs set a new NBA record for beating 9 straight teams by 12+ points, but did you see who they were playing? That said: If the Kings can beat the Lakers, perhaps it's worth not dismissing the run the Cavs are on right now.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tuesday 12/09 A.M. Quickie:
Panthers, Hot Stove, McCoy, Wade, Curry

Is it me or has it been a while since a Monday Night Football game mattered? Not just between the two teams playing, but also in offering up a meaningful statement about either of them.

In the case of last night's game, we got that from the Panthers, who feel like they have been overlooked all season long, eclipsed by the Giants or Cowboys or Eagles or even the Cardinals.

Ignore them no longer: They took on a rush D that held the Saints (OK: It was the Saints) to 44 yards last week and the DeAngelo and Jonathan Show ran for 300 yards and 4 TDs. I actually crunched some numbers this morning in the SN column (but don't confuse me for Aaron Schatz).

Williams and Stewart may not be quite as prolific or "signature" as the Titans' White and Johnson, but they are the most effective running combo in the NFC -- watch out for the Panthers.

Meanwhile, K-Rod to the Mets? The money is there, and I think both sides are willing (K-Rod should be willing, even at 3 years; he won't see $11M a year from anyone else.)

Don't expect any clarity from CC today.

Colt McCoy is coming back to Texas next season, as expected, and I couldn't put it more plainly in the column: Texas should be the preseason No. 1 and heavy favorite to win the national title next year and McCoy should be the heavy favorite to win the Heisman -- even if Tim Tebow comes back to Florida. The Revenge of Texas is the theme of next season.

Dwyane Wade's 41 last night was notable, as was Durant's 41, as was Dwight's second straight 20/20 game. But the player to watch was OJ Mayo, who tied Magic Johnson's rookie record of 21 games in double-figure scoring to start a career. And it doesn't look like it's ending anytime soon. Mayo is my quarter-season pick for Rookie of the Year, even ahead of Derrick Rose. That could change (will change, I'm sure), but -- as predicted for the past 3 years -- Mayo is made to be an NBA shooting guard.

Stephen Curry at Madison Square Garden tonight. It's on ESPN, so everyone can watch. I'll be watching from the couch, too -- my attempt to secure tickets didn't work out. (I'm saving all my chits for the game on Jan. 8.)

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Let's Put This Year's BCS Drama Behind Us

Feels like fans are ready to accept Florida-Oklahoma. But while we're hearing the last vestiges of this year's edition of "the BCS system sucks," I'll throw in my own coda about the root problem -- and it isn't the formula or a lack of a playoff. It's a lack of will by people who gripe the loudest.

Every year, there's something new to expose the BCS system as mucked up. And every year, there's griping. And every year, nothing changes.

Let's be clear. The BCS system endures precisely because the "snubbed" teams at the top allow it to. I have very little sympathy for them -- and I'd say that even if Florida wasn't "in" this year.

The teams involved in being snubbed (Texas, USC, Alabama, Penn State) are powerful enough that if any of them actually felt more strongly about playing for a national title than how they feel about their conference affiliation and BCS short-money, they would follow my original idea and secede from the BCS, even if it meant dropping out of their conferences -- or at least threaten it, ready to back it up and walk.

But you won't see them doing that, because they don't really care THAT much about a playoff... at least not as much as other things, like conference loyalty and, y'know, money. If they did, they'd do something about it.

At least as much of a fraud as the BCS system is the cabal that continue to support it -- not just the leadership of the power conferences or the university presidents, but also including the country's most powerful head coaches, including Mack Brown, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban and Joe Paterno.

That's why you won't see mouthy Mack Brown or griping Pete Carroll turning down either program's second-tier BCS bowl destination out of principle.

You think if Texas and USC said "Guess what? Eff you and your bowls. We're going to go play each other at a neutral site for sponsorship and a TV deal we'll generate ourselves, and we're going to call the winner of our game the REAL national champ," BCS folks wouldn't blink?

Texas is ready to set up its own TV network, but still feels like it needs to remain part of the Big 12? For what? Same with USC.

The only solution is for the best programs to drop out of their conferences -- an offer open to any other team that wants to join them, prominent or not -- and form their own super-league, complete with a playoff system. At least for football. Just follow Notre Dame's lead: Conference affiliation for everything BUT football. The sponsor and TV money will quickly follow.

It's all well and good to complain about the system. Just remember that the folks with the real power to change it -- the most powerful coaches and programs -- don't do anything about it but talk. That makes them no more serious about reform than your average fan on a barstool. Per a commenter's astute point, this last line as originally written was insulting to fans, including you and me. Let's leave it at this: That makes them unserious about reform.

-- D.S.

Coaches Final Top 25 Ballots Out: How Did Mack Brown, Mike Leach, Urban Meyer Vote?

Want to see the individual Coaches' Top 25 ballots? It's fascinating to see the conference rivalries and loyalties -- and conflicts-of-interest -- revealed so transparently. You can play with this for a hour. I spent 3 minutes:

*Mack Brown: Florida 1, Texas 2, Okla 3. (Like me!)

*Urban Meyer voted Florida No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 2, with Texas at No. 4 behind Alabama.

*Ranking Texas No. 1: Iowa St's Chizik, North Texas' Dodge, UCLA's Neuheisel, UTEP's Price.

*Who ranked Texas 5th? Mike Leach. Guess he more than anyone else has a claim. (Leach ranked Texas Tech No. 2, behind Oklahoma.)

*Florida ranked no lower than 3rd, but ranked 3rd by most of the Big 12 coaches -- and Jim Tressel. (Still bitter, eh, Coach SweaterVest?)

*Oklahoma had one ballot putting them out of the Top 3 -- Neuheisel had them 4th. Ouch.

*Northwestern's highest ranking: 16th, by Urban Meyer(!), Rich Rodriguez and Joe Tiller.

There is so much more here -- I don't have time to look deeply into how coaches voted for their own teams -- outside of the biggies like Leach and Brown.

First one to find the most interesting individual ballot detail wins... I don't know... something.

-- D.S.

Monday 12/08 A.M. Quickie:
BCS, Giants, Steelers, Cards, Hot Stove

Did the BCS get it right? Hmm: Would you settle for "right-ish?"

That concept leads today's SN column and I think it sums up the Florida-Oklahoma outcome.

Most fans -- outside of Texas, USC, Texas Tech, Penn State, Alabama -- will be pretty satisfied with the result: Top "name" teams from the two "power" conferences with telegenic offenses and Heisman star-appeal at QB.

What will likely drive Texas fans most crazy is how quickly the rest of the country moves on, settled into the reality of Florida-Oklahoma. (Well, UT fans will go crazier if -- perhaps when -- Florida rolls over OU.)

The column has my one-line instant reactions about each of the BCS bowls. They're OK, although it would have been fun to see Texas matched up with Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But if the BCS overlords want clarity, that wouldn't have provided anything but more doubt.

Meanwhile, it's time to settle in for the final 3 games of the NFL season. The top of the NFC is still clearly the Giants (or maybe not-so-clearly anymore). The Cards are an amazing story. And I think the Eagles will win the NFC... IF they even make the playoffs, which is no gimme at all.

With the Giants and Cowboys' struggles, the top of the NFL seems to be in the AFC: Tennessee and Pittsburgh -- defense wins championships. (Remember that, Oklahoma fans.) The AFC East is a hilarious mess. Pick your poison: The loathed Pats? The loathed Favre? Or the lovable worst-to-first Dolphins? And watch that game next week with the Steelers at Baltimore.

College Hoops: I think I have to try to get to see Stephen Curry at the Garden tomorrow night. He's one of those players you really want to see play in person -- or say you saw in person. Particularly coming off his 44-point binge over the weekend vs. NC State.

Meanwhile: With wins over UCLA and Duke, it's hard not to say that Michigan is on the up-and-up. But I'm drawn to the notion that Duke ain't that great. Certainly not "Final Four" great. Probably not even "Sweet 16" great, if the past few seasons are any indication. They remind me a lot of Florida right now: Woefully undersized. That's a hallmark of Coach K-coached teams: He just doesn't recruit, develop or produce great big men.

(Don't say Elton Brand or Carlos Boozer -- both came to Duke fairly fully baked. Credit Coach K for recruiting them, but both leaving early says a lot about how much they felt he and his staff of ex-guards -- Collins, Henderson, Wojo -- could develop them. Since those guys? It's grim. Please don't say "Josh McRoberts" or "Shav Randolph" -- both turned out to be either (a) terrible or (b) painfully undercoached. Either way, it's pretty damning. UPDATE: I guess Sheldon Williams counts. Meh: My theory has been obliterated by those pesky massive exceptions -- still: doesn't it FEEL like Coach K can't develop big men? I digress...)

Hey, let's hope for some fun hot stove action this week in Vegas. How about Jermaine Dye for Homer Bailey?

Complete SN column here. More later -- last night, I put together what is probably going to be my coda about the BCS for this season. I'll obviously keep writing about the match-ups and title game, etc., but it's time to let go of frustration at the BCS system...unless, as I write, you're willing to spread the blame where it REALLY belongs. Check back at noon ET for that.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

BCS Title Game Is Set: Florida vs. Oklahoma

Watch how quickly the "debate" dissipates and everyone embraces Florida vs. Oklahoma. Sort of like: "Well, you know, as far as match-ups of 1-loss teams go, this is a pretty good one."

Did the BCS system get it right? Well, I'd argue the BCS system failure was last week, when Texas was nudged aside by Oklahoma. The system failure wasn't this week: Oklahoma earned its spot.

Now, if Oklahoma wins the title game, its selection is justified. But if OU gets its doors blown off -- and if you look at their last 3 BCS bowl games, including in 2005 when they played USC for the national title, that's the Sooners' history -- Texas fans will have a gripe.

In fact, all fans will have a gripe, because it's not like you wouldn't have seen Oklahoma's BCS bowl failures coming. In that case, wouldn't you have rather seen what Texas could have done?

Anyway, I can now breathe easy -- and book my flight to Miami for Jan. 8. Now, about those game tickets....

-- D.S.