Saturday, October 04, 2008

College Football Saturday Tracking

VANDY! Story of the year in college football, no question.

Evening Update: Wedding Anniversary dinner out cancelled.
We're both too tired to bother. There's a preview for those of you without spouse or kid yet. Good news: The TV is on and we're flipping between all the good games. Looks like Vandy and Auburn will stay close to the finish -- Vandy will have problems scoring the 13 that Auburn has at the half.

Late-Afternoon Update: Does Alabama deserve to maintain their No. 1 spot
on my BlogPoll ballot for a 17-14 escape (at home) over Kentucky? Where was the team that destroyed Georgia in Athens? Is Kentucky that good? Was UGA that overrated? Or is Bama simply more inconsistent than we had previously thought?

Meanwhile, how many first-place votes will Oklahoma pick up, simply from a big score and spread against Baylor, while Alabama was in a typical SEC grinder? Last week, the percent split was roughly 66/33 -- I'm betting it's at least 80/20 this week.

So much for Michigan's resurgence last week. Illinois went into Ann Arbor and throttled them. (Juice Williams: 431 yards of combined passing and rushing, including 121 rushing. Amazing. Maybe his best full-game performance of his career -- although his 4th quarter at Ohio State last season remains his single greatest performance.)

How does Ole Miss go into the Swamp and beat Florida, then go home to the Grove and lose to South Carolina? Seriously!

Does Virginia Tech deserve to be considered for the Top 25 again? Not yet. (How about Cal? Ditto.)

Wrong about Notre Dame again! (D'oh.)

Early Update: Well, today left me feeling a hell of a lot better than last weekend, but Florida's offense just doesn't seem that dynamic -- unlike other teams that consider themselves Top 10. They have some gamebreakers besides Harvin (Demps, Rainey), but that was against Arkansas, not - say - LSU next week. That said, Florida tends to play up against good comp. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I give Penn State a ton of credit for winning in West Lafayette -- even more for shutting down a very good Purdue offense. PSU isn't just the Spread HD -- it's D, too. The Top 5 is pretty crowded and Penn State was sitting at No. 6 on my ballot last week; who would I bump? (A loss in the Top 5 tonight would make things really easy for me.)

Here's a statement about the rising state of Duke football: I actually give Georgia Tech credit for its 27-0 win. A year ago, it would have been "Oh, who COULDN'T beat Duke like that? (Aside from Northwestern...yeah yeah, I know.)"

It's college football Saturday (thank god)...

It can't possibly be worse than last weekend, right? (Interesting: Would a loss at lowly Arkansas the week after a season-crushing loss to Ole Miss at home be worse than the original season-crushing loss at home to Ole Miss? Not. Even. Close.)

What I'm watching today:
12:30: Florida at Arkansas (GamePlan)
(Tabs on: Penn State at Purdue)
3:30: Kentucky at Alabama (CBS)
(Tabs on: TX Tech/K-State, Ill/Mich - ABC, both)
6: Auburn at Vandy (ESPN)
(Tabs on: Texas/Colorado at 7 - not on TV?)
8: Oregon at USC - ABC
(Tabs on: Ohio State at Wisconsin - ABC)
9: Mizzou at Nebraska - ESPN
(Tabs on: 4th quarter in LA and Madison)

Wait, wait: I'm taking my wife out for dinner tonight to celebrate our wedding anniversary!

Hmm, let's see: If we strategically eat at 7, I'll catch the end of the 3:30 games, but be back at home in time for the end of Auburn/Vandy and most of the second half of all of the 8 p.m. games.

And the reason why I'm so lucky to have married her: She's totally on board with the plan, specifically so she can watch the college football too. THIS is how you make a marriage work.

-- D.S.

Saturday 10/04 (Very) Quickie

K-Rod chokes away Angels' chances of winning their ALDS series: I know that, beyond his record saves total, K-Rod's stats weren't the best of the AL closers. But still: He had that all-time saves mark, along with a $72 million minimum for his services after this season.

Of course, now his record-breaking season is even more clearly defined by his series-blowing choke yesterday.

I said this about the Cubs yesterday: In a 5-game series, a team simply can't lose the first two games at home, then expect to win 3 straight when the next 2 are on the road. The Angels are as done as the Cubs -- remarkable in that the teams with the best records in their respective leagues won't make it out of the LDS round. Hell, they might not win a playoff game. (We'll have to see how the Cubs do today; I'm quite sure Cubs fans have all but given up.)

Here's the postseason motto: Your regular season was meaningless.

(Unless, of course, you are a team like the Rays, which is doubling-down on their Cinderella season in the playoffs: 2 games at home; 2 wins. Man, I like this team. They are playing with confidence that belies their franchise's utter playoff inexperience. Who cares? More than enough room still available on the Rays bandwagon.)

Today: The Cubs try to stave off oblivion with their mid-season pickup Rich Harden. If he can't stop the bleeding, no one can. Meanwhile, the ageless, how-can-you-not-root-for-him Jamie Moyer tries to lead the Phillies to a close-out win in Milwaukee. I picked the Brewers to win the series, but I find the Phillies fans incredibly compelling and would be happy for them if they advanced (if only to set up even more crushing disappointment when they eventually lose).

CFB: BYU wins 15th straight. Now they can sit back and watch the rest of the Top 10 face far more daunting challenges than Utah State -- I fully expect (but was not ballsy enough to actually predict) that there will be at least one loss in the Top 10 today (beyond USF on Thursday). Conference play is just too much of an X-factor, particularly with the matchups today. (On the flip side, ranked teams who perform well should get a rankings boost.)

Wisconsin suspends marching band: Hazing? Drinking? Sexual inappropriateness? With absolutely no joking intended: Does this actually surprise you? The fairly under-the-radar culture (or cult) of the college marching band is rife with all of these things -- hey, just like the culture (or cult) of a college football team. It would make an amazing documentary (as if any school would allow you the access -- they know what's going on).

NFL: Brian Westbrook looks ready to go tomorrow against the Redskins. That makes the game that much more interesting (it already was one of the Top 3 games of the week).

NBA: I don't know what a "torn iris" is, but it sounds painful. Sorry, Amare. And just when his appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba made him one of my 10 favorite NBA players! (Quickie jinx, indeed. Or maybe the Yo Gabba Gabba jinx!)

Meanwhile, the Heat signed Shaun Livingston -- it's a low-risk bet. If he never comes back, he never comes back. But if he recovers, the Heat suddenly have a terrific backcourt partner for Dwyane Wade -- just in time for Wade's free-agent summer of 2010. It's not like he's staying in Miami. (Oh, you thought that kind of talk was just reserved for LeBron? Please: LeBron, Wade, Bosh -- they'll all leave their current teams.)

Candace Parker named WNBA MVP and Rookie of the Year: It's an impressive double, and indicative of the instantly center-stage place Parker has in the league. They are making the entire thing revolve around her -- makes you wonder what they did without her (struggle, actually).

Wow: OJ is actually going to go to jail. There IS justice in the world.

-- D.S.

Friday, October 03, 2008

BW's Top 100 Most Influential Sports People

Business Week launches its list: Tiger at No. 1? No way. Let's see: Tiger has been off the radar for nearly six months, and the sports world has thrived -- Golf? not so much. But that wasn't the list.

Other highlights: Michael Jordan at No. 9? Is this 2008 or 1998? (Most athletes in general -- LeBron at No. 17? -- are overrated. Lance Armstrong on the list? Totally. At No. 15? Hmm.)

Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media, at No. 83? That's absurd. He could be Top 20. The list shows a fundamentally lacking weight placed on folks leading the way in emerging media.

(I'll say the same thing I said last year, with a new name: The Deadspin editor, AJ Daulerio, should have made the list, even as a token at No. 100, particularly given the outsized influence of a site considered outside the mainstream.)

In the end, lists like this are meant to be ego trips for the people and organizations listed on them -- and fodder for debate for sports-business wonks like me or Rovell.

-- D.S.

CFB Week 6 Top 25 Preview and Picks

Last week totally freaked out my sensibilities. I had no upsets picked; upsets abounded.

Now, I'm too much of a wuss to actually pick any big upsets, but I'm perfectly unconfident enough to label "Upset Special?" for Bama, Missouri, Texas, Penn State and Texas Tech. (And, of course, I'm off to a great start by having picked South Florida over Pitt. But really: who didn't?)

Bama -- my newly crowned No. 1 team -- is a stretch, as they play at home; the rest all play on the road, against totally inconsistent conference opponents, so contender beware.

Catch you all day tomorrow.

(1) Oklahoma over @Baylor
(2) Alabama over Kentucky -- Upset Special?
(4) Missouri over @Nebraska -- Upset Special?
(5) Texas over @Colorado -- Upset Special?
(6) Penn State over @Purdue -- Upset Special?
(7) Texas Tech over @Kansas State -- Upset Special?
(8) BYU over Utah St -- Friday
(9) USC over (23) Oregon
(10) South Florida over Pitt -- locked Thursday WRONG.
(12) Florida over @Arkansas
(13) Auburn over @(19) Vandy -- Game of the Week!
(18) Wisconsin over (14) Ohio State -- GOTW Jr.
(15) Utah over Oregon State -- locked Thursday RIGHT.
(16) Kansas over @Iowa State
(17) Boise State over LA Tech -- locked Wednesday RIGHT.
(20) VA Tech over Western Kentucky
(21) Oklahoma State over Texas A&M
(22) Fresno State over Hawaii
@UNC over (24) UConn

Other games of interest:
@Georgia Tech over Duke (3-1!)
Stanford over @Notre Dame
@Michigan over Illinois
@Tulsa ( over Rice

Friday 10/03 A.M. Quickie:
Cubs, Longoria, Phils, USF, Utah, NHL

Will anyone really dispute the lead assertion of my SN column today that the Cubs are basically finished in this postseason? You lose two straight at home to open a best-of-5 series and you practically deserve to get ousted.

I'm wondering where this particular one will rank among Cubs fans as far as hurt goes. Given the NL-best record and the home-field advantage? Probably way way up there. (Not: "You might as well have not even made the playoffs" level, like the Phillies last year, but close.)

(UPDATE: A friend who is a Cubs fan emailed me to disagree: "The Cubs are just like Philly last year. What was the point of this season? Ugh.")

Meanwhile: Evan Longoria! Again: If you don't have a horse in the race, how can you NOT be rooting for the Rays? Especially in these troubled economic times, how can you not love a team with the 2nd-lowest payroll in baseball?

Good for the Phillies! And good for their fans. And I'll leave it there. But they took down my guy CC -- and you know what kind of credit I'll give them for THAT.

CFB: South Florida joins the ranks of the beaten. (Really: How does Dave Wannstedt DO this? First West Virginia last December, now USF in Tampa?) Utah narrowly survives, but at this point, it looks like Oregon State is a damn good team (and Penn State looks even better). All eyes on the Big 12 this weekend, when conference play starts and at least one upset has to happen, right?

NBA: Tim Donaghy acted alone. Or so the NBA insists through the legitimizing effect of a "report." In the SN column, I make what feels like an obvious suggestion: Make any/all gambling -- illegal or legal -- off-limits to refs, players and team execs. Period. The NBA may be focusing on illegal gambling, but it's the legal stuff that leads to the illegal stuff.

NHL: If you see today's column's "Last Word," you'll see my homage to NHL. I will continue to argue that it is a "niche" sport, but it is an amazingly successful one -- attendance is up; revenue is up.

Casual interest may not be up (except for the Outdoor Game at Wrigley!), but that's not what a niche sport needs. A niche sport needs a total devotion to its core fans, and the NHL seems to have embraced that.

I'll continue to push my advice for any niche sport, and that includes the NBA: Don't ask too much of the casual fans. Give them a couple of concrete, finite things to get excited about your sport -- a novelty game, a YouTube clip. Over time, it will work.

Complete SN column here.

- D.S.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rays-White Sox Game 1 Day-Game Mania

All I have been hearing is that no one will tune in to watch the Rays. Here's my question, again: Worst-to-first success stories (particularly ones who didn't "star-import" their way to success like the Celtics) are among the most compelling in all of sports. How has the entire nation not adopted this team as their own? If the locals won't do it, why not make them America's Team? -- D.S.

UPDATE: Longoria! (No, seriously: I know I can't apply LDS performance to award ballots, but in addition to locking up AL Rookie of the Year, is it insane to promote Longoria for AL MVP? He's at least in the conversation, right? Not ludicrous, right?)

Paying Freelance Opportunity in NYC

Based in NYC and have 40 hours a week to spare right now during this "lull" in the economy? Well, I'm hiring, at least! My company has a short-term (2-4 week) project I could use some help on, immediately. Paid, obviously, and I've got enough to keep you busy for 40 hours a week, if you can spare it. Underemployed journalists encouraged (I sympathize), but smart, reliable independent workers with good writing/editing skills should apply. NYC-based folks only. Shoot me an email if you're interested. Could have you up and going as early as tomorrow or Monday.

-- D.S.

Thursday 10/02 A.M. Quickie:
Bay, Manny, Hamels, Rays, Boise, More

It's hard to call yesterday's baseball playoffs openers unexpected. Sure, the Red Sox and Dodgers won on the road -- in a 5-game series, no small thing -- but the fact that Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez played heroes? Unsurprising. In fact, kind of obvious. See today's SN column.

(With the Phillies, especially with last year's NLDS flame-out, you never know, so a series-opening win -- even at home -- seems sort of surprising and far less obvious than a Bay/Manny HR binge.)

All we know is that the Cubs are suddenly in a hole, and it's up to Carlos Zambrano to help them out of it. The Angels are in a hole, too, but they get today off to think about it. Meanwhile, if anything would focus the playoff-novice Rays, it was yesterday's results.

Meanwhile, it's back-to-back nights of BCS-busting goodness: Last night, Boise State thumped LA Tech -- the Broncos are a good bet to go unbeaten. Tonight, Utah has a challenge in Oregon State (and you thought the Utes' challenge was the season-finale vs. BYU...).

Here's the thing: Rather than the friendly confines of Corvallis, OSU plays at Utah. And rather than facing an overconfident, overrated conference foe it owns in USC, the Beavers will play a scrappy BCS-wannabe that won't possibly take OSU lightly.

As I point out in today's column, most pollsters still put Utah behind USC. But a convincing win tonight might flip that: It's not pure Transitive Property (Oregon State is on the road, not at home), but it's close enough to make a difference, particularly with lazy poll voters. (Where the laziness works FOR us, not against us, for once!)

More later. Who else is counting the hours until the Biden-Palin debate tonight? It's going to be crazy, although you are nuts if you think Palin is going to implode. The format is tailor-made for vague, simplistic, rehearsed answers heavy on the folksy -- that's Palin's wheelhouse. Given the low expectations, she doesn't have to do much to be considered a "winner." Don't discount that.

Complete SN column here.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

This Week's Final Group CFB BlogPoll Ballot

Find it here. Majority No. 1 Oklahoma tops my No. 1 pick, Alabama, 44 1st-place votes to 31. USC cracks the Top 10, with UGA and Florida, in that order, directly behind at 11 and 12. (Northwestern cracks in at No. 25 for what I believe is the first time in BlogPoll history.) -- D.S.

MLB League Division Series (LDS) Picks

NLDS: Cubs in 5. Brewers in 4.
ALDS: Red Sox in 4. Rays in 5.
Quickie Jinx in full effect, presumably.

Wednesday 10/01 A.M. Quickie:
LDS Mania, Thome, Kiffin, Non-Scandals

Aaand, we're back. This morning's SN column allowed me to flex two of my more favorite theories:

(1) You should root for the Rays because a team going from worst to first in a single season is one of the most incredible things that can happen to baseball.

(2) As long as the Cubs are in the World Series, it doesn't matter which AL team they are playing, because the ratings will be HUGE regardless.

Those are the two big things on my mind as the playoffs start today with that tripleheader. You can start by following it at work, then move home for primetime, then see if you can stay up for the late one. (I certainly won't be able to do all three.)

Meanwhile, I think Jim Thome just got his career-defining play. Of his prodigious home run total, none will be bigger or more memorable than last night's.

(For his part, Ken Griffey's run-/game-saving throw to the plate was pretty amazing; it is a sidebar -- but entirely worth tracking -- that he earns an end-of-career playoff shot.)

Meanwhile, four things came out yesterday that should make you say: "Well, no shit." (Excuse the swearing...)

(1) Lane Kiffin was fired and it got ugly quickly.
(2) Ricky Williams thinks about smoking pot.
(3) Tony Mandarich used steroids.
(4) Alonzo Mourning experienced NCAA recruiting violations.

I'm sure you're just shocked -- shocked -- to hear all that.

Complete SN column here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tuesday: Off for the Holiday

Longtime readers know that I take off for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana (tomorrow), which I and others (like Ryan Braun!) will be observing.

The talented Spencer Hall will be pinch-hitting my Sporting News column tomorrow, so please be sure to check it out and enjoy.

Back Wednesday, bright and early.

-- D.S.

Taking Your Kid to Their First Sports Event

So a month ago, I took my 2-year-old to the Swamp for Florida's season opener. Big mistake. That said: I finally thought it through enough to try to take some lessons from it, and it turned into a potentially valuable advice column for the site I help run in my alternate identity. The column is hopefully useful for parents of toddlers and kids who are thinking about taking their kid to a sports event for the first time. Check it out (and be sure to read all 4 pages!)

-- D.S.

Monday 09/29 A.M. Quickie:
White Sox, Favre, Skins, Titans, Bama, More

It must be the end of the baseball regular season if a Monday column leads with baseball ahead of the NFL and college football.

But the end of this baseball season is even better, because the White Sox have to win a make-up game against the motivated-or-phoning-it-in Tigers, and -- if they win -- THEN play the Twins. Regardless: It's a weekday day game of playoff implications -- who's doing a live-blog? (Who's NOT?)

Meanwhile, today's SN column exposes that Week 4 in the NFL is generally where 3 weeks' worth of assumptions about the season fall apart: Favre sucks? Perhaps not. LJ/Chiefs suck? Not yesterday. (Corollary: Broncos unstoppable? More like: Mirage.) Titans and Bills can't possibly sustain it? My god: Kerry Collins is 1/4-Season MVP (and Chris Johnson is 1/4-Season ROY).

And then there's the "Monday Morning After" in college football. If you dropped by the blog on Saturday, you saw how I reacted to Florida's loss to Ole Miss (My "Worst. Loss. Ever.") Let's focus on the positive: Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country, and I am mystified that 2/3 of AP voters have Oklahoma ahead of them -- or that the Coaches have them at No. 4(!)

Ranking this weekend's top CFB accomplishments:
(1) Oregon State beating USC.
(2) Bama rolling at Georgia.
(3) Ole Miss winning at Florida.
(4) Michigan's comeback at home vs. Wisco.
(5) Northwestern 5-0 for first time since 1962.

Check out my complete BlogPoll (Take 1) for this week and give me any feedback before I file tomorrow's final version.

More later. Complete SN column here.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

CFB BlogPoll Top 25 Week 5 Ballot, Take 1

Let me know what you think. Giving an early preview this week. Not sure I've dealt with USC, UGA and Florida correctly. No, the lack of 5-0 Northwestern isn't some form of self-loathing.

1 Alabama 9
2 Oklahoma 2
3 LSU 2
4 Texas 3
5 Missouri 1
6 Penn State 6
7 Brigham Young 1
8 South Florida 3
9 Texas Tech --
10 Southern Cal 8
11 Georgia 8
12 Utah 1
13 Boise State 2
14 Auburn 3
15 Ohio State 3
16 Kansas 3
17 Florida 12
18 Wisconsin 4
19 Fresno State 1
20 Oklahoma State 5
21 Ball State 1
22 Connecticut 1
23 Vanderbilt --
24 Michigan State 2
25 Tulsa 1

Dropped Out: Wake Forest (#16), TCU (#24).

Sunday 09/28 (Very) Quickie

Alabama gets my vote as the No. 1 team in the country, after the way they beat Georgia in Athens last night. Just because Oklahoma was ahead of them doesn't entitle OU to anything.

BlogPoll Top 10 initial pass: (1) Alabama; (2) Oklahoma; (3) LSU; (4) Texas; (5) Missouri; (6) Penn State; (7) BYU; (8) South Florida; (9) Texas Tech; (10) USC (begrudgingly... 5 weeks in, and we're already down to less than 10 teams that deserve a spot in the Top 10.)

The Big 12 replaces the SEC with a "Big Three": Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri (and Texas Tech, simply by having a bye to avoid the upset bug, will make it 4 in the Top 10 for the Big 12).

And I don't think it's unreasonable to add Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford to Daniel at the top of the Heisman list -- Knowshon Moreno isn't up there anymore.

Penn State looked similar in beating Illinois to Missouri. They should be ranked accordingly. (Derrick Williams had a 3-R game of his career: TD rushing, receiving, returning -- reminding me why he was once considered the best offensive recruit of his high school class.)

Florida didn't lose because of the missed extra-point or the inability of Tebow to get that 1st down on 4th and 2 -- they lost because of 3 turnovers that resulted in 10 Ole Miss points. (You can read the multiple posts below for my post-loss reaction. Um, reactions...)

Hell of a win for Rich Rodriguez; hell of a loss for Tommy Bowden.

As much as I dislike people talking about Northwestern as if they were the woeful program of the 70s and 80s and early 90s -- not the halfway decent program of today -- 5-0 is a big deal.

Congrats to the Phillies on their NL East title.

NL Wild Card: It all comes down to today! (No, wait: Unless it comes down to tomorrow! Either way: It's a must-track today.) Um, can Johan Santana pitch on NO rest? How about 1 day?

AL Central: Twins clinch with a win Sunday combined with a White Sox loss. In any other scenario, we get the couldn't-be-more-awesome Monday make-up game between Chicago and Detroit, which is remarkable in that Chicago would have everything to gain and Detroit nothing. Which Tigers would show up?

How much must it irk Roger Clemens that Greg Maddux moved past him on the all-time wins list? And Maddux didn't even need PEDs to do it.

New World Record: Men's marathon, by Haile Gebrselassie, breaking the 2h4m barrier.

RIP, Paul Newman: How big was Newman's presence in the history of sports movies? He was in arguably 3 of the Top 20 greatest sports movies ever -- Slap Shot (Top 10), The Hustler (Top 10), The Color of Money (Top 20, but he won an Oscar for his performance).

-- D.S.