Saturday, January 03, 2009

Saturday 01/03 (Very) Quickie: Utah Rules

I think it's a legitimate question today: Is Utah the best college football team in the country?

They sure looked like it in dismantling Alabama last night. That first quarter was about as perfect of a quarter as I have ever seen played -- particularly if you factor in how well Bama had played in 1st quarters all season.

Here's where the whole 4-team playoff or Plus-One system breaks down: The natural bias against non-BCS-conference teams.

Do you think that Utah would have been included in a 4-team playoff? Or ranked in the Top 2 ("Plus-One") following the bowls? Nope. But are they one of the 4 best teams in the country? Without question. Are they one of the top 2 teams in the country? Based on last night: There is a case to be made.

I think they would give Florida fits and would give USC a game -- remember, against common opponents, the Utes were superior to the Trojans. I think Utah could score at will on either Texas or Oklahoma; Alabama's defense was vastly superior to any in the Big 12.

Utah won't win the national championship, although they will be the only team to finish the season unbeaten -- in the process beating the team that was No. 1 heading into the final week of the regular season (Bama) and beating the team that beat the team everyone suddenly seems to think is tje best in the country (USC). All while rolling through the MWC, an underrated league that dominated the Pac-10 this season.

So who's No. 1, if not the Florida-Oklahoma winner? Forget USC: If anyone has a claim, it's Utah.

Meanwhile, the Texas Tech-Ole Miss game was even better than the fairly high expectations. And, as a proxy for "Is the Big 12 for real?" vs. "Is the SEC overrated?" debate, the SEC won.

As I noted yesterday: It's going to be awfully hard for Big 12 partisans -- particularly Texas fans -- to knock Florida's loss to Ole Miss anymore... not when Ole Miss clocked the team that beat the Longhorns.

Peyton Manning is NFL MVP, again: I guess you could argue that he deserves it, but for novelty's sake, can't we invoke the "Michael Jordan Rule" and look for some diversity in the award to a player who truly breaks through this year? Like DeAngelo Williams? Or Michael Turner?

NFL Coaching Carousel: Here's an intriguing rumor -- do the Broncos want Oklahoma's Bob Stoops? That could be a small distraction this week for Oklahoma. Or do they want Steve Spagnuolo? Or Jason Garrett?

Meanwhile, the Browns talked to in-house candidates (DC Mel Tucker) and Josh McDaniels, while Jets fans can't possibly be happy to hear that Bill Callahan made the interview list, along with Brian Schottenheimer.

Here is the ideal distribution:
Browns: Josh McDaniels (with Scott Pioli)
Jets: Steve Spagnuolo
Broncos: Bob Stoops

(For the record, I don't think Stoops is leaving college football -- his gig at Oklahoma is too powerful and too high-paid, even factoring in NFL money. That said: Yet another BCS blow-out loss might make him wonder if things could be easier in the NFL.)

NBA: My favorite highlight was the can-you-top-this exchange in Oklahoma City -- Kevin Durant hit a 3 to put the Thunder up with just seconds to go, then Carmelo set up and hit a buzzer-beater to break OKC's spirit and win the game.

MLB Hot Stove: But not involving a player. Jeff Moorad is leaving his post running the D'backs to buy the Padres. I wonder if Jake Peavy will be off the table for good after that.

Meanwhile, it's the first day of Wild Card Weekend in the NFL: Colts-Chargers should be totally fascinating; Cards-Falcons perhaps less so, but whoever wins that game advances a hell of a great storyline into the Division Round. More on those games later.

-- D.S.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Bowling: Ole Miss Thumping Texas Tech

Wow: I think a lot of people gave Ole Miss a puncher's chance, simply for the way they beat Florida and hung with Alabama. But I don't think they expected Ole Miss to roll like they have.

Texas Tech's defense really is that porous, and TT's stifled offense seems to have gotten accustomed to the soft defenses found from top to bottom in the Big 12.

As far as this serves as a proxy for the national-title game: If nothing else, this result effectively quashes the talking point of Big 12 fans who doubt (or doubted) Florida for losing to Ole Miss.

-- D.S.

The Annual Shanoff Sports Hot/Not List:
What's Out From 2008 And In For 2009

What was hot in sports in 2008? I would rank my Top 5 trendiest this way:

(1) The Rays
(2) Michael Phelps
(3) The "Wildcat"
(4) Stephen Curry
(5) Nate Silver

There are a lot more, but in tradition, let's look ahead to what might -- nay: WILL -- be hot in 2009, and what we're leaving behind with 2008. (This year, I even added a slight twist, offering up a link to some background info informing my picks.) Enjoy the walk down memory lane at the bottom of the list.

The toughest pick? No question: Who are "the next Rays?" And I had to expand beyond baseball -- although some (Silver) predicted their success, the Rays simply broke the mold for break-out teams. In fact, I left that open for you: If the Rays are the ultimate hotness from '08, who (or what) will be the ultimate hotness in '09?

Leave that answer in the Comments -- along with any other categories you want to weigh in on. This list is by no means comprehensive or granular enough.

But I will say that I spared you even a single mention of a certain Florida QB (even though his presence in the 09 NFL Draft or the 09 CFB season will make him THE defining name in either).

As always, entries are listed with the "Out" first, representing what was hot in '08 but will be displaced or replaced by the "In" contender in '09. I used to list categories, too, but the entries should be pretty self-explanatory.

Out: Michael Crabtree
In: Julio Jones

Out: White House mountain biking
In: White House pick-up hoops games

Out: Michael Phelps
In: Tiger Woods

Out: A-11
In: Gus Malzahn

Out: Nate Silver

Out: 37Pitches
In: @The_Real_Shaq

Out: Will Leitch
In: AJ Daulerio

Out: Matt Cassel
In: Kevin O'Connell

Out: Celtics D
In: Lakers D

Out: Steroid busts
In: DUI busts

Out: FireJoeMorgan
In: Drew's Jamboroo

Out: Kevin Durant
In: OJ Mayo

Out: Cheap bleacher seats
In: Cheap online streaming

Out: High-top LeBrons
In: Low-top Kobes

Out: Texas Longhorns TV Network
In: MLB Network

Out: Stephen Curry
In: Seth Curry

Out: Wildcat RBs
In: Wildcat QBs

Out: Fanhouse
In: SB Nation

Out: At Bat
In: Sportacular

Out: Retro Jordans
In: Retro Asics

Out: Arena Football League
In: United Football League

Out: Brandon Jennings
In: Lance Stephenson

Out: Live-blogging
In: Twitter updates

Out: Rays
In: Readers' Choice!

Answer the Rays-of-'09 question in the Comments, along with any other adds you have.

And now... let's step into the wayback machine for Hot/Not lists through the decade. No one has been doing this What's Hot/Not (or In/Out) column for sports longer than me. It is, annually, one of my favorite columns to write -- wherever it might be published. Enjoy:


Again, best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

-- D.S.

Friday 01/02 A.M. Quickie:
Wild Cards, USC, Cotton Bowl, Barkley

First things first: You/I/anyone are not being bold by picking all four road teams to sweep the NFL's Wild Card round. It's fairly novel, to be sure, but all are favored. The Wild Card leads today's SN column, the first edition of '09.

That said: If I'm picking the road teams to all win, you just know it ain't gonna play out that way. The only thing I can hope for is that my Super Bowl pick -- the Eagles -- don't lose at Minnesota.

Far more interesting: Are the Vikings and Cardinals really not going to sell out their games? That's pretty pathetic. Like: You-don't-deserve-a-franchise pathetic.

At the very least, you'd think that local fans could pool their resources to buy up the remaining tickets to avert the TV blackout.

Meanwhile, USC is very very very good. But we already knew that. Beating up on overrated Penn State will hardly move the needle for them -- though it exacts a measure of justice re: Oregon St.

But I am sure that they will earn a couple of AP votes for No. 1 after next Thursday night (but so will Texas, when they put a similar hurt on Ohio State). And don't discount the 5-0 Pac-10 bowl season.

Yesterday's bowls were -- to put it mildly -- terrible. Even the Rose -- a clinic in excellence (by one team at least) -- lacked any sort of suspense.

Today's bowls, on the other hand, size up as interesting, if nothing else. I put this in the column today, but Texas Tech-Ole Miss is far more intriguing for its Transitive Property implications than the actual meeting between the two teams involved.

You'd be excused for using them as a proxy for the Big 12 and the SEC -- for Oklahoma/Texas and Florida. If Ole Miss wins, suddenly that win over Florida seems reasonable; if Texas Tech wins, then suddenly the Big 12 isn't the overrated defense-free zone they just might be.

And Alabama-Utah isn't Georgia-Hawaii: Utah is a legitimately good team (and extremely well-coached), unlike Hawaii last year. And Alabama is missing Andre Smith. Utah will need some Boise State-style offensive power to keep up; they can't/won't win a slugfest.

Barkley, Cont'd: I ripped Barkley yesterday, but in the reports about the arrest report, it sounds like he was totally upfront about his drinking (and the reason behind his traffic violation -- a race to get home and get with his favorite hook-up). It doesn't excuse the DUI, but at least Barkley is consistently transparent about his problems.

Finally: No, you didn't miss my annual Hot/Not List yesterday. I didn't get it published. But I worked on it last night and it should be ready to go a little later this morning. Check back then.

Complete SN column here.

-- D.S.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Thursday 1/1 Quickie: Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! Lots of college football to watch today, but I am actually just as excited to watch the NHL Winter Classic from Wrigley Field.

Who would have guessed it would be Kansas that would lead the charge to reclaim the Big 12's tarnished rep to start the bowl season?

If you didn't catch LSU clocking Georgia Tech, it was a throttling.

Congrats to...Vandy! Between the Dores and the Tigers, maybe the SEC wasn't as "down" this year as everyone thought they were. We'll see today with South Carolina and Georgia.

Wow: That Oregon State-Pitt Sun Bowl was even WORSE than expected. And that's saying something.

Gonzaga loses 3rd straight: Was this team really my second-choice pick as a national-title contender? (Behind my top national-title pick: Louisville, which also lost last night, to UNLV? Wow, I better resolve to watch more college hoops.)

Meanwhile, is unbeaten Minnesota for real? Michigan State proved otherwise. (And suddenly that Gophs win over Louisville doesn't look THAT impressive.)

Charles Barkley arrested for DUI: I'm a day late on this, but this is as unsurprising as it is appalling. Barkley has large, unregulated tastes -- we knew about the gambling, now booze.

Look: The gambling never hurt anyone (although I still question whether a gambleholic NBA expert could possibly keep himself from betting on the NBA itself), but when you get in a car drunk, you are way more likely to hurt someone else than yourself. Barkley is a mess.

More later. Enjoy the day.

-- D.S.

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.