Saturday, January 10, 2009

Vote for Baby Mangino

When Deadspin's annual Sports Human of the Year (SHOTY) tournament began a few weeks ago, I totally called the Cinderella-ish run by "Baby Mangino."

Your last chance to vote for him -- going up against Buzz Bissinger, another figure who wouldn't have even been on the radar in 2008 if not for Deadspin -- ends Sunday.

While Buzz was certainly one of the most notable figures in the sports-blog universe in 2008, Baby M. has my vote.

-- D.S.

Saturday 01/10 (Very) Quickie: Cavs Rule

Between the way the Celtics have been playing lately and the way the Cavs have been playing at home, last night's dominant Cavs win -- LeBron was excellent -- wasn't much of a surprise.

Question: Does this affirm the Cavs as the best team in the East? Or do they not earn that status until they vanquish the Celtics from the playoffs?

Michael Crabtree going pro: He could have gone pro after last season, too. In fact, the whole "redshirt sophomores are draft-eligible" is ludicrous -- how is that so different from true sophs?

NFL Playoffs today: Good day to just sit inside and watch games.

Still savoring the Florida win. And contemplating if Tebow will/should go pro -- check out the post below, if you missed it yesterday.

-- D.S.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Will Tim Tebow Turn Pro Or Stay In College?
Better Question: SHOULD He Turn Pro?

Should Tim Tebow stay at Florida or enter the NFL Draft?

I have laid this out before: Tebow can't do much more as a college player. National title? Check (twice, including once as a starter). Heisman? Check (one win, one 3rd-place finish).

Further, given what you read about what NFL scouts say about him, I'm not sure his draft stock improves with another year of college "seasoning." His NFL flaws will remain his flaws. (UPDATE: Not necessarily true. Florida's new QB coach is Scott Loeffler, who was the QB coach at Michigan and for the Lions -- OK, don't snicker; he knows what the NFL needs in a QB.)

And then there's the money: Sure, he won't make first-round money -- this year or even perhaps in 2010 -- but the endorsement dollars should be among the highest in the NFL. And if Tebow wants to support his father's ministry with his pro earnings, why put it off a year?

That said, there is an appeal to staying:

*If, in fact, he is not seriously considered a long-term NFL starter, why not just stay in college, where he is not only prolific, but beloved -- the poster guy for the sport.

*The endorsement dollars will still be there in a year, and the ministry can probably wait for it; they have waited this long.

*Finally, for all of his accolades and accomplishments, if Tebow returned, he would have the chance to cap an unprecedented career:

Another title? Another Heisman? How about an unbeaten season, which has never happened in Florida history?

How about status as the greatest college football player of all time? How about leading a team that would compete for status as the greatest college football team of all time? (USC '05 alert)!

The idea is hardly unprecedented -- it's not even unique for Florida. When the basketball team won their first title, Joakim Noah and Al Horford would have both been Lottery picks. Corey Brewer would have been a first-round pick.

But they all came back, for the chance to accomplish something special: Back-to-back titles, and status as -- arguably -- the greatest starting five of the modern college hoops era and -- inarguably -- status as one of the greatest teams/dynasties of the modern college hoops era. All that, plus a hell of a lot of goodwill for putting the game and each other ahead of pro dollars.

I'm sure it is tempting for Tebow to stay.

In college football, he is a god (no: not a "lower-cased god," like that creepy "Zombie Jackie Robinson" in the Gatorade "What Is G?" ads). In the NFL, he is a sideshow.

Opportunities for true, Mount Zeus immortality in sport are rare. There are probably only a dozen or so athletes ALL-TIME who qualify -- none in college football. Tebow could be It.

You could argue that he is already almost there -- one of the "all-time greats" in his sport -- even if his career ended now.

There are two telling tales from recent years:

*Vince Young: VY left early, after a transcendent season and championship-game performance, and that hasn't dimmed his place in college football's Pantheon any.

(More similarities: In addition to reaping tons of endorsement dollars that Tebow is likely to similarly create -- more, actually -- VY has run into problems in the NFL on the field, similar to what Tebow might face.)

*Matt Leinart: Leinart stayed all 4 years -- for much of the same reasons Tebow would stay: He loved college life. His USC team had the potential to be one of the best -- if not THE best -- ever. Win another Heisman. And it all ultimately collapsed around him, unfulfilled. I would argue that Leinart's star as a college football super-great dimmed, perhaps just slightly, by staying.

It is a complex decision.

I think that Tebow has nothing left to prove in college -- success came so early, so comprehensively and so exhaustively that his senior year seems superfluous.

And yet I think Tebow IS college football; how could he be one of "those" players who abandons it early? Particularly -- especially -- if there is no great demand for him in the NFL.

I will be torn either way he decides. I will be thrilled if he comes back -- it is almost overkill. (Almost.) I will support him as an all-time college football great if he leaves.

I can only imagine how difficult it is for him. His particularly unique disposition -- and I would say his disposition, of anything, is what puts him over the top as an all-time great -- is uniquely suited for a decision like this. He possesses an uncanny sense of clarity.

And yet in analyzing it here, there are simply no easy or obvious answers.

My prediction: I think he will come back to Florida for his senior year. And it will be mayhem.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Allen Barra has a must-read in the Village Voice, and he details an NFL analogue for Tebow that I have mentioned here in the past: Donovan McNabb.

Tim Tebow Eye Black John 3:16 Scandal-ish

Expanded on from the post below.

OK, so about Tim Tebow's "John 3:16" eye-black...

Some don't like the in-your-face evangelism. Unsurprising.

However, surprising even myself, I don't mind it, because -- generally -- he's so much less in-your-face than others...

...And much less in-your-face than you would expect from a player whose faith is as integral to his life as Tim (a development that made me re-think my own biases, to be honest).

In his first interview last night on the award podium, note the first thing he said. It wasn't "I want to thank Jesus." It was this:

"I just want to thank the fans. They are so unbelievable... I just love being a Gator and I thank all of you!"

From my observations -- and I have observed him a lot (specifically about this issue of proseletyzing) -- he seems to make an active effort to be inclusive. He doesn't -- and won't -- ignore his faith; he brings it up all the time. He simply does it in a fairly thoughtful/careful way.

Just got this message on my Facebook Wall from an old college buddy, with an Onion-like headline mashing up Tebow's faith -- and my faith in Tebow:
This just in: Shanoff Converts to Christianity - "Christ makes me feel closer to Tim."
Want to hear the most ridiculous part? When Tebow originally came out onto the field last night, I was like, "Hey, what happened to Phil 4:13? John 3:16 is so cliche."

(Seriously: It's like I was waiting for the guy in the rainbow wig who sits behind field goals to show up and do a little dance on the sidelines about it. He totally ruined John 3:16. Honestly: What was wrong with Phil 4:13? There was a nice little winning streak with Phil 4:13! Did he really want to jinx things by changing it up NOW? Come ON!)

-- D.S.

Final Thoughts On Florida's Title Game Win

It's probably a good measure of what's most important to you NOT what you instantly post 5 minutes after a championship game involving your team ends, but after a fitful night of mind-racing lying in bed, what still stands out (more or less in this order):

*Tebow's crazy display of emotion early in the 2nd half: After that very iffy first half, Tebow looked...timid?

Tied 7-7, the 3rd quarter started with a 3-and-out for Florida, but the Gators D held (even after that awful roughing-the-punter penalty).

They got the ball back, and thus began Tebow Time. It was on a key Tebow scramble for a first down that he got up -- and got fired up. It was the "old" Tebow, back and ready to go.

For me, that was the game's biggest turning point. This picture says it all.

*Tebow's unlikely unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty as the game was winding down, doing the Gator Chomp in the face of an Oklahoma defensive player. Though I'll call it part of Tebow's "enthusiasm," it was a display of taunting that I have never seen from him in 3 years. For those of you still hunting for even a sliver of "bad boy" in Tebow: There it was.

*Ahmad Black's give-me-that-ball interception. Down 3 with tons of time to go (10 min), Oklahoma was three plays into a drive that looked for all the world like an inevitable (and go-ahead) TD.

Then Black literally YANKED the championship from Bradford and Co.

It was the ultimate symbol of the performance by the Gators' D, one of the greatest single-game performances in college football history (if you consider the prolific offense they were playing).

*Fox's broadcast was horrible and nearly unwatchable. The defining moment was that "4th down!" gaffe in the 2nd quarter. (No, you morons: It was 3rd down.) They were horrible. I cannot wait for ESPN to take over these broadcasts next year; the difference isn't even worth comparing.

(The only thing I'd compliment Fox on was that "count-up" clock to track the speed of Oklahoma's offense. Like most Fox broadcasts, they probably went to it a little too much, but once I became insanely afraid of their hurry-up capabilities, the clock was like an on-screen enabler of my neuroses. Every time OU went super-hurry-up, they produced a good play -- except for that hurry-up run on 4th and Goal early on -- not sure why they slowed down even a little...unless Florida's defensive game-plan was foiling their first take at play-calling.)

*Tim Tebow's eye-black message. Some don't like the in-your-face evangelism. Surprising even myself, I don't mind it, because -- generally -- he's so much less in-your-face than others.

Just got this message on my Facebook Wall from an old college buddy:
This just in: Shanoff Converts to Christianity - "Christ makes me feel closer to Tim."
Want to hear the most ridiculous part? When Tebow originally came out onto the field, I was like, "Hey, what happened to Phil 4:13? John 3:16 is so cliche."

*Either one of Percy Harvin's long runs, plus Percy Harvin's direct-snap TD. I appreciate Tebow's takeover in the 2nd half. But it wouldn't have been possible without Harvin carrying the team in the first half -- and his long run on the first play of Florida's first drive of the 4th quarter, setting up the go-ahead FG in the 2nd half. Harvin deserved co-MVP.

*Nic Harris's unflagged and totally inappropriate cheap shot on Harvin, twisting his ankle following a tackle. The only question in my mind is: Was Harris -- a notorious cheap-shot artist -- acting independently? Or did either Brent Venables or Bob Stoops instruct Harris -- either implicitly or expliclity -- to try to take Harvin out of the game? The latter wouldn't surprise me.

(And thank you, Orson: For confirming that Venables did, in fact, scream "We're f--ked!" on camera just before the end came for him. I saw it, re-wound the DVR to confirm, and figured I would wait for bloggers to further confirm for me -- don't expect to see it in mainstream media.)

*The jump-pass TD to seal the win: Not only did it capitalize on Black's INT, but the drive that produced it took nearly 7 minutes off the clock. And the call of the jump-pass -- which put Tebow on the national map as a freshman against LSU -- was a sentimental book-end for his career, if in fact last night's game was his last as a Gator.

(Even with just 3 minutes to go and down 10, I thought for sure that Oklahoma would score in, like, 30 seconds, then recover the onside kick and score again. All that confidence I had going into the game was eroded within, oh, the first 2 minutes of the game.)

*The fact that every time my wife had to briefly leave the room, something amazing happened: The stop on 4th and Goal; the blocked FG. It got to the point where we seriously considered watching the rest of the game with each of us in separate rooms.

*And, as much as anything else, the game will be defined for me by this ongoing feeling of dread I felt throughout. Oklahoma's defense was better than I could have ever imagined; Florida's offense was stalling -- some of the play calls were maddening. Oklahoma's offense seemed to be able to move enough; every play, I was sure, would be the "Big One." Brown was killing things.

As I mentioned last night, I was so sure that Florida would win -- not just this week, not just the last month, but even going all the way back to my preseason expectation that they would win the national title -- that the taut, low-scoring game totally threw me for a loop. It was totally unexpected; normally, I love to be surprised -- live sports are one of the only things left that have the power to truly surprise you. In this case? Not so much.

I found it hard to be TOO jubilant last night, just after the game ended. I was still too keyed up, the lingering feeling that they just might lose -- at least the first 55 of the game's 60 minutes -- was still too residual in my frame of mind.

(As you'd expect, I got a bunch of text messages and emails as the game was winding down and victory seemed secure, and I found it too hard to digest them in the immediate moments after the game. I appreciated them a lot more this morning.)

It was only after thinking about it overnight that I was able to start fully appreciating how hard-fought this win was -- it was so different from the feeling I got watching the shocking shellacking that Florida put on Ohio State two years ago.

Only now, in a bit of delayed gratification, does the game begin to feel fully satisfying. Perhaps the thing -- not a moment, per se -- that will linger with me is "14." Oklahoma's offense was among the most prolific ever, and Florida's D shut them down (mostly...certainly, as well as you could ever expect). It's hard to watch a slugfest -- it's not as sexy as a shootout. It's gritty.

But in the end, though it has taken 12 hours (and will likely take even more to fully marinate), I feel the sensation of awesome that any fan whose team wins a championship should feel. Once I got over the disconcerting disconnect between my expectations and reality, gritty finally felt so good.

-- D.S.

Friday 01/09 A.M. Quickie:
Gators, Tebow, NFL Playoffs, More

Here is today's SN column, leading with a first-person account from a Florida fan about how tough to watch the game was last night -- ultimately satisfying, but only after a fierce slog.

Also: BlogPoll Top 10... Tebow's future... NFL Playoff Preview... Beanie, Crabtree, Maclin... Celtics vs. Cavs tonight... and "Who's No. 1?" in '09...

More on the game -- and I promise I won't dwell on it all day -- shortly, along with my final BlogPoll Top 25 ballot. Complete column here.

UPDATE: I highly recommend you read Matt Hinton's take on the game over at Y!

-- D.S.

Final BlogPoll Ballot: Florida Finishes No. 1
Plus: I Expose The Folly Of Playoff Seeding

How appropriate, given that Florida at No. 1 is the way I started the season (one of 14 BlogPoll voters -- and, yes, Kirk Herbstreit -- to call it in August).

NOTES: I am so pleasantly surprised that Utah ended up No. 2 in the AP's final poll, mirroring my own ballot. I hope voters didn't put the Utes there for the symbolism, but for the earnest belief -- like mine -- that they are indeed the 2nd-best team in the country.

I said this yesterday: Utah would give Florida a tougher game than any other team in the country -- including USC -- specifically because Kyle Whittingham is an Urban Meyer protege. (That's also the reason that Meyer would ultimately prevail -- he knows Whittingham's tendencies better than anyone.)

NOW: Playoff proponents, please note that based on the penultimate AP or Coaches polls:

*In a 4-team model, Utah would have been left out (including a model based on AP votes).

*In an 8-team model, TCU would have been left out (perhaps even for Boise State, a team they ultimately beat head-to-head).

*In a 16-team model, Ole Miss would have been left out (and Texas Tech been included), despite the Rebels obviously being one of the Top 16 teams in the country -- if they could beat Florida at the Swamp, they could have presumably won it all in a playoff format.

Obviously, that is with the benefit of hindsight, but it shows you just how sticky the issue is in trying to pick a playoff field. This isn't like the NCAA basketball tournament, where there are 31 at-large bids that cover 98 percent of all reasonably worthy teams -- very very competitive teams would be left out of a football playoff.

UPDATE: As for 2009? If Tebow returns, Florida is a lock for No. 1. If not, it's probably Texas. Although check out Schlabach's list -- everyone has massive holes...except Florida. (People will think I'm insane, but Tebow backup John Brantley -- while not the runner Tebow is -- is a substantially bettery passer; if the D keeps the team in every game and the home-run hitters like Demps do what they do best, Brantley will be good enough -- if not spectacular.)

Here is my final ballot. Let me know what you think:

1 Florida --
2 Utah 6
3 Southern Cal 2
4 Texas 2
5 Oklahoma 2
6 Alabama 2
7 TCU 5
8 Mississippi 10
9 Penn State 2
10 Georgia 6
11 Texas Tech 5
12 Ohio State 1
13 Boise State 4
14 Oregon 1
15 Virginia Tech 2
16 Oklahoma State 3
17 Cincinnati 7
18 Oregon State 8
19 Missouri 1
20 Georgia Tech 6
21 Iowa 5
22 Florida State 4
23 West Virginia 3
24 California 2
25 Tulsa 1

Dropped Out: Brigham Young (#19), Ball State (#21), Michigan State (#22), Northwestern (#23), Pittsburgh (#24), Boston College (#25).

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Florida Wins The National Championship(!)
Victory Wasn't Pretty, But It Was Effective

It's funny: I couldn't enjoy that game for one minute, at least until the TD to make it 24-14.

But now? Oh, yes.

In a way, when you expect to win a national title (especially since all the way back to August), the championship itself feels weird -- like confirmation more than celebration.

OK: Reactions?

More than anything: Florida's defense went up against the most prolific offense in college football history and held them to 14 points, something no other team can touch.

(To Oklahoma's credit, their defense was outstanding. The difference between winning and losing was a handful of Percy Harvin home runs and that little jimmy pass to Hernandez...over and over and over.)

Was Tebow great? He started the game SO tight. He had a couple of amazing scrambles to keep drives alive. He made a couple of terrific throws. Mainly, his enthusiastic outburst turned the game's momentum around. I particularly liked his unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty late, doing the Gator Chomp in the face of an Oklahoma defensive player. Taunting? Never. Celebration.

Still: Tebow's legacy is secure -- two national titles (one as a starter, one as a key role player), a Heisman, a 3rd-place Heisman finish. The Speech. The images of his enthusiasm. Top 5 all-time? I'd say so. The question: With a title to call his own, will he come back next year?

I loved the very first reaction from Tebow when he was interviewed on the podium by Fox:

"I just want to thank the fans. They are so unbelievable... I just love being a Gator and I thank all of you!"

(Yes, he eventually got to thanking Jesus, but (a) there's nothing wrong with that -- I give him so much credit for, as usual, not shoving it in our faces, and (b) that he prioritized his thankfulness for the fans and for being a Gator is at the core of his appeal.)

Speaking of legacies, how about Percy Harvin? With two titles of his own, and an MVP-level performance in this title game, maybe he deserves some "all-time" props of his own.

OK, as for the polls: An ugly game is precisely what some contrarian AP voters would be looking for as an excuse to nullify their penultimate poll and split the title.

That said: Florida went into the game as the AP No. 1, and they beat the AP No. 2 team, soundly and, in the end, decisively -- again, the defining number was "14," which compared to Oklahoma's scoring-binge season, was absolutely stunning.

It would defy all logic -- the voters' own logic -- if enough AP voters didn't vote for Florida as national champ. (Although to be sure, I'm sure there will be plenty of AP voters looking for a little self-promotion for themselves by going with USC or Utah.)

Anyway, I'm going to go savor this one. It was a slog, there's no question about that. But it was a championship.

-- D.S.

BCS National Title Live-Blog (Ish)

End of 3rd Quarter: Edge goes to Florida, finally. Didn't like the offensive series to end that quarter -- Dan Mullen is going to the "Tebow keeper up the gut for 3" offense. (I'm not averse to Tebow scrambling when the play breaks down, but it feels like they are designed when they are least effective. It's Mullen's crutch.) Can't believe just one quarter left. Too close to call.

Prediction: If the game continues at its current low-scoring, mildly ugly pace, we will DEFINITELY see a split national champ. This is the excuse that AP voters would be looking for.

Halftime: Umm...WHAT THE F IS HAPPENING HERE? A friend who is a die-hard Texas fan just called to say that he is gleeful to finally see a team that gets luckier breaks than Oklahoma.

Let's see: Florida suffered through TWO Tebow INTs, let Oklahoma run wild, can't touch Bradford and were lucky to get a 4th down stop and a goal-line INT. They are getting outplayed.

By the way: Both the broadcasters and the refs -- but especially the broadcasters -- are among the worst I have ever seen in a big game.

End of 1st Quarter: Well that was surprisingly...defensive. Oklahoma's D is playing WAY better than I think everyone expected. Penalties are the only thing keeping OU from a first-quarter lead.

Gametime: Because Lee Corso taunted me by saying his partner, Kirk Herbstreit, was the only one to pick Florida to win the national championship -- in the preseason.

Ahem. Not the ONLY one.

Go Gators. Let's get this going.

-- D.S.

Tailgate: Prediction/Ultimate Quickie Jinx?

One of a series of posts written late last night about tonight's game.

I have never felt so comfortable before a big game as I have going into this one. I honestly think Florida will win handily. I will be sincerely shocked if they lose. Not merely devastated -- shocked.

Am I willing to predict a score? Not quite. I think Florida will top the 45 that Texas hung on Oklahoma. I think Florida will hold Oklahoma to less than the 35 they scored on Texas.

If I really, truly believe that Florida will win by 20+, that necessarily means that I'm thinking of something along the lines of 48-28 -- 6 TDs and 2 FG for Florida, 4 TDs for Oklahoma.

Make no mistake: It is entirely inappropriate how confident I am feeling about this game.

-- D.S.

Next up: Catch you later tonight with in-game updates/neuroses.

Obama Picks the Gators

Well THAT should seal the deal.

Tailgate: Picture Worth At Least 100 Words

Next hour: The last pre-game post -- a game prediction.

Tailgate: Overheard In My Apartment

One of a series of posts written late last night about tonight's game.

Me: "I really, sincerely think that Florida is going to win by 25."

My wife: "Ugh, you're like the Kiss of Death. If they lose, you're no longer welcome as a fan."

-- D.S.

Next hour: A picture worth (at least) 100 words.

Tailgate: What's On The Line For Florida

One of a series of posts written late last night about tonight's game.

So what's on the line for Florida tonight? Through my impossibly biased perspective, a lot. If Florida wins:

*Urban Meyer is confirmed as the best college football coach in the country, nudging just past Pete Carroll.

*Tim Tebow stakes his claim as one of the Top 10 (Top 5?) players in modern college football history -- that would be 2 titles (one as a starter, one as arguably team offensive MVP), a Heisman Trophy and a Heisman 3rd-place finish, all in 3 years.

If you love Tebow, read this.

If you hate Tebow, read this.

(But, seriously, how can you hate Tebow, beyond hating the IDEA of Tebow? Yes, I'm biased: He is my favorite college football player -- probably my favorite athlete -- of all time. But he really does seem to live up to his ideals; not to be too messianic about it, but he is a once-in-a-lifetime player. I hope he comes back to school, if only because he is the very ideal of a college football player. While he may or may not be an effective pro player on the field, he will continue to be the model pro player off the field.)

*Tebow likely turns pro: What more can he accomplish in college? His NFL stock (2nd-round) is unlikely to improve with another year of college football. Plus: Despite the recession, Tebow will clean up in endorsement contracts -- by far, the richest of anyone in the draft class.

It ain't bad for Oklahoma if they win, by the way:

*Oklahoma bookends the decade as the pre-eminent program, and we all forget about the mid-decade BCS bowl blunders.

*Sam Bradford would take his own place among the Top 5-10 QBs in modern CFB history AND would cement his status as the No. 1 overall player taken in the 2009 NFL Draft.

*Bob Stoops reasserts himself as arguably the best CFB coach in the country. Perhaps he even figures he has done all he can do in college and tests out life in the NFL as Broncos coach.

*OU O.C. Kevin Wilson gets his pick of open head-coaching jobs in '09 as THE best assistant coach in the country. (If Stoops leaves for the NFL, perhaps as Oklahoma H.C.?)

-- D.S.

Next hour: My wife disowns my Florida fandom?

Tailgate: A Few Final Thoughts

One of a series of posts written late last night about tonight's game.

This has been the most enjoyable season I have ever had as a Florida fan. (Yes, yes, folks -- go ahead and say it: "All eight of them, Dan?" Emotionally, that makes me like a 13-year-old in "fan years.")

Every season, I immerse myself more and more -- I think about previous seasons and each is better than the last. The awareness with which I experience the emotions of the season feels so much more heightened than before.

Yes, that had something to do with the team's smashin success this year, but consider the seminal moment of the season -- for me, for Tim Tebow, for Florida -- that loss to Ole Miss.

Remember my reaction? God, I was freaking devastated. That, more than anything, was the most memorable moment of the season for me -- how horrible I felt.

I still thought the team could and should win the SEC, but I figured that even if the SEC champ deserved a crack at the national title, there was no way that there wouldn't be two unbeatens.

Then Tebow made his instant-classic statement and fates changed: Florida went on an insane roll -- each win seemingly more impressive than the last. Meanwhile, BCS rivals in the Big 12 and elsewhere slipped.

I made it to Gainesville twice: The week of the season-opener and the week after the SEC title game (where I missed seeing any football but got to actually step onto the field at the Swamp).

My wife had our second kid, and the due date was the day of the LSU game -- the baby held on until the Tuesday afterward, though that made the date of the bris too close to gameday for Tebow to attend as the mohel. (You all thought my offer to him wasn't serious?)

I introduced my older son to the tradition of watching Florida -- all college football -- on Saturdays. A year ago, he was too litttle -- I could get him to say "Tebow!" but that was about it.

This year, he knew enough to jump on me -- or avoid my enthusiastic tackles -- when Florida scored. He got a toddler Tebow jersey but remained partial to his Harvin jersey.

It was the first year I really felt like I and my wife -- who, of course as you all know, is the real Florida fan -- could share the fandom with him. I think that made it exponentially more fun.

I watched a game from the Swamp, from my couch, surrounded by friends and even an entire game in the car -- thank you, Sirius/XM -- during the worst Jersey Turnpike traffic ever.

I was able to frame and articulate my fandom in new ways -- not necessarily here, where believe it or not I tried not to stretch TOO thin your patience for my bias.

(But I am going to try to take the month after the season to finally put it all in perspective and see if anything interesting comes out of it.)

As always, thank you for coming along for the ride this season. With all due respect for KSK's love of the NFL or Leitch's love of baseball or Shoals' love of the NBA, college football is -- to me -- the perfect sport (even with, or perhaps a little because of, the mess at the end).

Would it be this enjoyable if my team wasn't in the national title game? Hey, there's still time for them to lose tonight and ruin things....

The beauty of the sport is what has always made it great: Every week is a playoff. (Well, MOST every week. Obviously not weeks ending in "45-35.") Theoretically, every team has a shot, as long as they keep winning. (well, MOST every team. Obviously not teams outside of the BCS conferences.)

And even if your team loses its title shot -- or even loses a couple times (or more) -- the individual games feel more precious than they do in other sports. It is a perfect season.

Perhaps except for the maddening finish. We will see tonight, won't we?

-- D.S.

Next hour: What's on the line for Florida.

UPDATE: I cannot possibly sum it up as awesomely as EDSBS's Holly did in this video. If you love college football, you will love this. Thank you, Holly:

Tailgate: Final BlogPoll Ballot of 2008 Season

One of a series of posts written late last night about tonight's game.

The final BlogPoll ballots are due tomorrow morning
-- I'll probably file mine overnight tonight. And, as usual, I want your help.

If Florida wins, let's assume they'll be No. 1. But how do the rest line up behind them, including Oklahoma? (Same thing in the scenario -- gack -- that Oklahoma wins.) Anyway, this is how I'm sizing up the final list:

1. Florida/Oklahoma winner
2. Utah
3. USC
4. Texas
5. Florida/Oklahoma loser
6. TCU
7. Alabama
8. Ole Miss
9. Penn St
10. Georgia
11. Cincinnati -- Whoops. Will adjust this for sure.
12. Texas Tech
13. Ohio St
14. Boise St
15. Oregon

-- D.S.

P.S.: One other complication, based on yesterday's post. Let me pose a hypothetical: Let's say that Florida wins, but I honestly think that the only team in the country that could beat Florida is Utah. Am I obligated to rank Utah at No. 1? Or is the "could" simply not enough enough to nullify what would be a Florida win -- potentially a big one -- over a very good Oklahoma team?

(Note that this is not the same as the bullshit being thrown around that voters should pick Utah as some sort of protest vote, where they don't actually believe Utah is the best team, but just want to stick it to the BCS. I actually think Utah would give Florida a game. A hell of a game.)

Next hour: I go on the couch about this past season.

Tailgate: Florida O vs. Oklahoma D

One of a series of posts written late last night about tonight's game.

Florida's offense is better than the best Oklahoma has seen this season (Texas or Texas Tech) -- you could argue the Florida's offense is every bit as good as Oklahoma's.

Oklahoma's defense is perhaps the 8th or 9th best defense that Florida has seen this season -- Oklahoma winning a national title with that low-ranked of a D would defy all sorts of BCS history.

Will Florida hit home runs? Even if Harvin is "only" 90 percent, Jeff Demps is ready for a BCS break-out. Chris Rainey

But I actually think Florida's success comes in simply moving the chains, even 5 yards at a time. Drain the clock; keep Oklahoma's offense off the field. Wear down the D.

What are your keys to the game?

-- D.S.

Next hour: Final BlogPoll ballot. Your input needed!

Thursday 01/08 A.M. Quickie:
Florida, Oklahoma, BC, Mangini, Celtics

Here we go. We can disagree about who the best college football team in the country is, but the team that wins tonight's game between Florida and Oklahoma will have the strongest claim.

The hype is around the offense, but the X-factor is the defenses: How will Florida's Top 5 defense handle Oklahoma's prolific no-huddle offense? How will Oklahoma's Top 60 defense handle Florida's prolific spread offense? (I think I just answered my own question.)

Believe it or not, I glazed over Tebow in today's SN column, instead focusing on this question of defense. I remain confident that Florida will win -- we know what kind of trouble that's created.

After holding back for a month, I couldn't sleep last night so I decided to finally indulge my inner (and outer) Florida fan with a series of written-late-night posts, scheduled to roll out throughout the day, so check back often.

Otherwise, more storylines you'll find in today's column:
*Praise for BC in canning Jagodzinski.
*Mocking BC for losing in hoops to Harvard.
*Praising the Browns for hiring Mangini.
*Mocking the Browns for losing(!?) Pioli.
*Praising ESPN for the Vitale-NBA experiment.
*Mocking the Celtics for yet another loss.
*Plus: Erin Andrews! Candace Parker! John Feinstein!

You can find it all here. More (much more) later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

John Feinstein Says Vote For Utah? Bah.
Voting Out Of Spite Is Worse Than The BCS

John Feinstein used his substantial platform of the Washington Post to urge the AP voters to pick Utah at No. 1 -- entirely out of sheer spite.

I can think of no more crassly cynical thing to do or to ask for. One might even question whether it is the sports journalism equivalent of tanking a game or shaving points.

There should be a single consideration in any voter's mind: Which team do you think is No. 1? It doesn't have to be the Florida-Oklahoma winner.

It merely has to be the team you ACTUALLY THINK IS NO. 1. I can see sense in the argument that Utah is No. 1. If I truly believed it, I would vote for them as No. 1.

However, if you vote for Utah not because you think they are No. 1, but because you want to stick it to the BCS, you -- yes, you: Feinstein -- are more corrupted than the system you seek to ruin.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: The argument is not HOW people are voting, but with WHO gets to vote -- if a voter is picking the BCS game winner because they have never seen Utah play, that is just as bad as picking Utah just to spite the BCS. Generally, we do a terrible job of qualifying voters -- the Coaches are a mess of conflicts; the Harris pollsters are a joke; the computers are opaque; the AP doesn't deserve its power. Maybe we're better off with a small Selection Committee.

What gets lost in the criticism of the current system is that no system (including a playoff) removes the inclusion problem. Four-team playoff? Utah wouldn't have been invited. 8-team playoff? Only if you abandon conference auto-bids and limits and go off of Top 8 (and, again, who picks the Top 8, and how on Earth do you decide between 6-7-8 and 9-10-11-et al?) Even a 16-team playoff would be problematic; how do you account for conference auto-bids? Do you let in all conferences? If that's the case, I'm quitting the SEC and joining the Sun Belt.)

UPDATE 2: Dammit. Orson always says these things the way I would like to say them. And he takes on Reilly's screed about Utah, though he throws in a hell of a kicker about Feinstein at the end.

Wednesday 01/07 A.M. Quickie:
BCS, Celtics, Arkansas, McDaniels, More

Memo to Texas fans, to Utah fans, to USC fans (and their coaches and media boosters):

Lobbying for the AP half of the national title is in vain, and that's the lead of my SN column this morning.

You will NOT get the AP to split its vote and crown a different national champ than the BCS title game will generate. Not with the two teams playing for the title ranked 1-2 in the AP poll.

(In the widely cited 2003 split, USC entered the bowl season as AP No. 1. So, if anything, if Florida had been snubbed for the BCS title game for, say, Texas, then the Gators would be eligible.)

And so I have a proposition for you: Court the bloggers, because the BlogPoll Top 25 looms as the next-biggest/next-best poll out there (and don't forget about that blogger cachet!)

Yes, coaches and media: I know you disdain the bloggers. But bloggers are the ones with the open mind to not only reflect the nation's interest in a split, but convince ourselves that a team other than the Florida-Oklahoma winner is, in fact, the nation's best.

(Please note that I am doing everything I can to restrain myself from going bats--t crazy on the blog in anticipation of the game tomorrow night. I will limit myself to tomorrow, and even then, a few limited posts.)

Meanwhile, a few other storylines you will find in today's column:

*OK, Celtics fans: NOW it's time to panic.
*How is Arkansas hoops not ranked?
*I want MY team to hire Josh McDaniels, too.
*OK, BC: Time to fire Jagodzinski.
*Gus Malzahn is going to turn Auburn around.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy 6th Anniversary to the Quickie

January 6, 2003: The debut of the Daily Quickie on Check it out here. (My god.)

Inspired by what was then 8 years in online sports media and incubated as a business concept at Harvard Business School before being sold to my editors at ESPN, who thankfully bought into the assumptions in my pitch, the column was a first-of-its-kind piece of online programming:

Specifically created for the morning just-got-to-work audience with a quick-hit take on everything they need to know to be ready for the day in sports conversation -- just enough.

At the time of the launch, my voice as a columnist was still a work in progress. One of my editors and mentors, the amazing Jay Lovinger, read through my test columns a few months earlier and dubbed my voice "bitchy knowingness." (Back before that became the default setting for...well...everyone. But so better than describing it as "snarky" or "irreverent," right?)

But the pace of writing a column every weekday morning -- limited to anywhere from 800 to 1000 words to cover anywhere from 20-25 top storylines of the day -- was the best way to develop it.

In short: "Instant history." Whatever happened yesterday has the potential to be the greatest thing ever to happen -- in its own unique way. Somewhere between the PTI-ization of sports media and the rise over the next year of fast-paced blogs as consumer destination, the Quickie found its fit.

(My superlative fetish? Check out that original edition, which includes the first of my hundreds -- if not thousands -- of superlatives: "Wildest day of wild-card games in NFL history.")

In its run of nearly 4 years, it became one of the most successful original-programming concepts in history and it became a must-read destination for millions of fans every month.

And it was a blast. From its inception, the column was a labor of love more than anything else. It was so much fun, in fact, that when the column's run ended on August 31, 2006, I couldn't give it up: launched on September 1, 2006, hubbed around the same Quickie concept (only unpaid for doing it!), along with all sorts of posts on topics that struck me as notable.

The blog has been going strong ever since, including a spin-off of the spin-off: The daily morning Wake-Up Call as part of the Sporting Blog lineup on

Many of you out there might even remember that first day -- January 6, 2003 -- when we first connected on a daily basis (some of you might even remember my Page 2 work in '01 and '02, or even my column-writing at -- or, for the OGs, my prolific writing for AOL's Real Fans Sports Network in the mid-90s), and it has been an amazing ride ever since.

Six years later, I cannot thank you enough for your attention and your passion for sports -- for your readership, your comments, your emails, your criticism, your compliments, your patience and your partnership during this six-year ride.

There is no such thing -- at least in my opinion -- as a pundit without an audience. There is a writer and reader relationship, and without a community that cares to engage in what you're talking about, you're not fulfilling the potential of that relationship.

Your energy and attention and care for what I have to say makes this all worthwhile. It always has. That connection with readers -- more than anything...even the thrill of having my own daily national sports column -- was what felt like the narcotic back on that January 6, 2003.

What a ride it has been. As with every January 6, I cannot wait to see what the next year will bring. And I am thrilled and honored that you will choose to continue to join me here.

Sincerest thanks again.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 01/06 A.M. Quickie:
Texas, Mack Brown, BCS, Pitt, Burrell

I don't know what is more ludicrous: The notion that anyone could possibly think that Texas is the No. 1 team in the nation anymore -- or that Mack Brown is STILL pushing that line, even after last night.

"Texas is NOT No. 1" leads today's SN column. The kicker of the column:

"But Brown's team did make a super case ... for No. 4. But, hey: Of the teams without a claim on the national title, they are first in that line."

Meanwhile, if you're looking for more evidence that perhaps the Big 12 style led to an inflated sense of value of the conference, how about Texas' struggles with Ohio State's defense?

I think it is fair to say that any lingering doubts that the Big 12 defenses are terrible are gone. (But I'm not quite sure I wanted Florida's Brandon Spikes to affirm that position publicly.)

And while I'm quite sure that Oklahoma has never faced a defense this season (including TCU) as tough as Florida's, the great equalizer is Oklahoma's pace on offense.

(The NYT's inimitable Pete Thamel -- the best college football reporter in the country -- has a must-read that traces the OU no-huddle back to its fascinating roots.)

I am not concerned about Florida's ability to score on Oklahoma. And while I am sure that Florida's D is an unprecedented challenge for OU, I am sure that OU will be able to score.

Anyway, back to Texas: They can sit behind the Florida-Oklahoma winner, Utah and USC -- in that order, btw -- in my final rankings. They simply looked too unspectacular, particularly when compared to the stylish way Utah and USC clobbered their opponents -- both tougher than OSU.

More in the column:
*Pitt is No. 1: As it should be.
*James Harrison as NFL DPOY: Agreed.
*The Spurs are hitting their stride.
*Rays pay for Burrell: They earned the splurge.

You can find it all here. Very special anniversary post coming at noon ET, prepared this past weekend.

-- D.S.

PS: Memo to all the Ohio State fans who hate that I hate tOSU. I just sent this out in an email to one of your peers, and I thought I'd share:

"It was a very good year, and you should be proud of OSU's effort -- particularly defensively -- against UT. I will question why (a) Tressel didn't unleash TP as a runner more, VY-style, and (b) what he was thinking not sitting on the ball until there was less than 1 min to go, then kicking a FG to win. I am usually sympathetic to Texas and you know how I feel about OSU, but I actually found myself rooting for OSU -- Mack Brown has made me sick."

Yes, I even surprised myself feeling that emotion about OSU. Alas, you probably delivered a best-case scenario for OSU-hating Florida fans: Ohio State lost (again), but played Texas tough enough to remove the Longhorns from the debate for No. 1.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Utah and the Myth of a National Champion

I admit to being torn by the state of college football proclamations of a "national champion."

I am as frustrated as everyone else by the current system. I was as inspired as everyone else by Utah's performance. I too find the idea that the Florida-Oklahoma winner is definitively "better" or the "champion" ahead of Utah or USC or Texas to be at odds with what I see with my own eyes.

There are two strong arguments, both articulated this weekend by CFB's leading blog voices:

EDSBS: Atomize the notation "champion" into enough pieces to fit the myriad teams worthy of wearing the label. (But what if you think that Utah has a clear resume advantage over USC?)

Doc Saturday: Continuously dismiss the current system. (And I don't say that to dismiss the way Hinton is approaching it -- to the contrary: I think his hammering is entirely valuable.)

Here's the reality: We all buy into a ranking system. Both Orson and Matt force themselves to rank the top teams each week as part of the BlogPoll. There is no split vote for any of us.

We could, in theory, anoint hundreds of national champions: The EDSBS Champ, the Yahoo Sports champ, the champ, etc.

Instead, we have decided to cede this responsibility to the college football coaches and to the AP.

We collect so-called "experts" and aggregate individual ballots. Sometimes these voters disagree, but everyone agrees to buy into the aggregate.

Now, the BCS system is rigged -- coaches aren't allowed to vote: They automatically vote for the BCS game winner.

The AP has -- at times -- served as a counter-balance, most notably in 2003 when they gave USC the national title (although USC went into the bowls as the AP's top-ranked team -- this year, Florida and Oklahoma are 1-2; to have Utah or USC or Texas jump them, the AP would have to nullify its own existence... unlikely).

So the obvious solution is to create more "recognized" champions outside of the BCS and the AP. There are a few problems with that:

(1) The AP isn't exactly about to cede its position, despite the fact that it pulled itself out of the BCS system because it didn't want to "make news itself." Yeah, right.

(2) The BCS and its partners -- coaches, conferences, media companies, sponsors -- have a vested interest in promoting the "unified champ...our champ" theory.

(3) Even if you created multiple outlets to crown a champion, would they really divide it as easily (and appropriately) as Matt does: Fla-Okla winner (BCS); USC (Media); Utah (People's); Texas (Aggrieved).

Here is one test: Bloggers are as "counter-culture" as anyone out there, and the BlogPoll is the closest thing to a recognized poll with any sort of traction.

Do you think the BlogPollsters will vote Utah as our national champ -- not as a protest, mind you, but because they actually think the Utes are the best team in the country? How about USC? How about Texas?

There can only be one "best," one top-ranked team, one No. 1. As a poll voter or as a fan, you take in as much information as you can, put it through your filter and make your determination.

You don't get to split your own personal vote 4 ways. You can be frustrated at not having an on-the-field way to decide between the contending teams. But you gotta make your choice. We do it every week during the regular season. Ideally, as Matt does, you weigh the resume; it's no different after the bowls than it is after Labor Day, except you have more information.

The BCS has already made its choice. The AP voters will make their choice. You will make yours.

If you legitimately believe that Utah or USC or Texas or Florida or Oklahoma is the best team in the country, vote them No. 1. Make your case to others, and maybe you will convince enough people to agree with you that you create legitimacy for your position.

But you still lack the credibility and self-fulfilling validity of an awards platform.

There is a model for this: College football's many awards, particularly "Player of the Year" awards -- as evidenced this past season, when Bradford won the Heisman, Tebow won the Maxwell, McCoy won the Camp, etc.

There is another model for this, one that aggrieved college football fans and bloggers should look to: Movie awards. What is the "Best Picture" in any given year? Like college football, there is a lot of debate -- and it's not like there is a tournament to pit them against each other.

(Hmm: "Benjamin Button" as Florida? "Milk" as USC? "Slumdog Millionaire" as Utah? "Frost/Nixon" as Texas? I digress....)

But we have the Oscars, which is/was the standard. But then the foreign press wanted to have their influence, so they created the Golden Globes. Then the actors wanted a say, so they created the SAGs. And each regional film critics' association created their own.

And, this weekend, I'm watching CBS and I see a promo for the People's Choice Awards. Now, I'm as populist a sports fan as there is, but this awards show is ludicrous.

However, some genius came up with it and now it is as legitimized as the Oscars, complete with nationalized voting, a red-carpet show, a primetime broadcast and Queen Latifah as host.

For more than a decade, I have been pushing the notion of a nationalized "Fan Poll" as the closest thing there is to a counter-balance to both the BCS and the AP's hegemony. I usually get scoffed at -- you'd think fans would be more inclined to support something that empowers them and breaks up the tyranny at the top.

That's why I'm such a huge fan of the BlogPoll -- if you buy the atomized, offsetting rooting interests of the participating bloggers and also trust that each voter/blogger listens to their readers, adjusting their ballot as is appropriate, the BlogPoll is as close to a Fan Poll as we have.

There is no reason that we BlogPollers can't anoint our own No. 1-ranked team as national champ. If it isn't the BCS or AP champ, I guarantee you that the school will display that status as prominently as a BCS trophy. Schools are smart about their marketing like that.

Here's the rub: When we do finally bring together the 150 BlogPoll voters and their represented millions of fans who consume them, will the group really reach a consensus that the champ is NOT the winner of Florida and Oklahoma? That it is Utah or USC or Texas? I doubt it.

Though I'd like to see it.

But it will take a critical mass of individuals acting and thinking rationally enough to independently see it that way -- and not just as a knee-jerk protest vote, but because you look at the resumes and you legitimately believe that your alternately proposed No. 1 team is the best.

You will not break up the BCS, no matter how loudly you protest. You will not convince the cloistered AP to stop making news itself and running its poll and proclaiming its champ.

But there IS room for more voices at the table identifying and proclaiming their own champ. All it takes is the organizational power to create it, then demand it be recognized.

Yes We Can.*

(* - But there is no guarantee that the result will be any more enjoyable or high-minded than what the BCS or AP comes up with. However, if you would like a Heisman-Maxwell-Camp scenario among national-title teams, we can probably figure out a way to make that happen.)

-- D.S.

Jay Mariotti Lands At AOL Sports

Submitted without comment. Yet. (AA weighs in.) At a minimum, I'd say that Mariotti crowing about mainstream sports media going online is so... 2005.

Mariotti will get page views because AOL drives PVs, not because Mariotti drives audience.

The idea that a "name" columnist drives audience is the very essence of "mainstream" newspaper-sports-section thinking -- and was debunked a long time ago (though still perpetuates today).

Monday 01/05 A.M. Quickie:
Eagles, Ravens, UNC, BC, BCS, More

For those of us who picked the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, a Division date with the defending champs is a best-case scenario. That leads today's SN column.

(Of course, for those of us who foresaw a sweep of road-team Wild Card wins, intuition isn't a charm -- although how can you not have seen the Chargers upending Mr. MVP?)

More you'll find:

*Ed Reed is the greatest free safety in NFL history. Discuss.
*Best performance of the NFL weekend: Arizona's defense.
*Hmm: Looks like UNC's annual March choke came early.
*Mangini to the Browns? OK. Gilbride to the Raiders? Hunh?
*Oklahoma DBs should keep their mouths shut re: Tebow.
*I really believe the Celtics are phoning it in until May.
*Under Armour: Andre Debose is the next Percy Harvin.

There were a few inspiring posts coming out of the Utah win, and I worked up a follow-up post about them last night. It's coming around noon-ish ET.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday 01/04 (Very) Quickie

Umm, so much for the whole "road teams as favorites" in the NFL Wild Card round.

Darren Sproles! 2 TDs, including the game-winning TD in OT. 105 yards rushing. 45 yards receiving. 178 return yards. Who needs LaDainian Tomlinson?

Although the Chargers won the OT coin toss and the Colts offense never had a chance, the Colts really did it to themselves on defense with those penalties.

Meanwhile, Peyton Manning is back to leading the Colts to postseason chokery -- the day after he was anointed as NFL MVP, making the irony even more delicious.

Cards! High-flying offense may have gotten the Cards into the playoffs, but the story of the game was Arizona's inspired defense:

The Cards D held the vaunted Falcons run game to 60 yards total (42 for Turner on 2.8 ypc), picked off Matt Ryan twice and sacked him 3 times.

One of these "road team lock to win" predictions HAS to be right, right? Ravens-Dolphins still feels too much like a toss-up, so I'm going with the Eagles over the Vikings.

But the lesson of yesterday is that the so-called "experts" who called for the road teams to win -- or were seduced by the Colts' winning streak and Peyton's "MVP" season -- are full of bunk.

College Hoops: So much for Georgetown's momentum this week. Either they were tapped out by beating UConn in Storrs or Pitt really is that awesome -- DeJuan Blair: 20 and 17. He's awesome.

More Big East madness: St. John's over Notre Dame? Wow. It's going to be that kind of season in the league.

Don't underestimate Wake Forest's win on the road at BYU: BYU hadn't lost at home in forever. (53 games) Wake is for real.

Meanwhile, I don't know if any of you watched this, but Tennessee's women were held to their lowest first-half point total EVER at Rutgers, then came back to win. It was a hell of an effort.

NBA: Danny Granger is one of the NBA's up-and-coming absolute studs, having a breakout year. He had 35 outdueling Kevin Martin's 45 in a Pacers shootout win over the Kings.

CFB Bowlings: Donald Brown! We talk a lot about Shonn Greene, Knowshon Moreno and Javon Ringer. How about UConn's Donald Brown? He became only the 14th player ever to have a 2,000-yard rushing season, going for a career-best 261 in an International Bowl win over Buffalo before declaring for the NFL Draft. He may not be a first-rounder, but he'll have a good pro career. The rookie RB class in '09 has a lot to live up to to match '08, but the talent is heading in.

Bob Stoops would like you to know he isn't interested in the Broncos head-coaching job. Sort of. "I don't know anything about it." Which isn't exactly a strong denial. More a protest of ignorance. (What if Oklahoma wins? Or, say, if they get blown out?)

Jets interview Steve Spagnuolo: From the New York ties to the on-field success, this seems like the best match for the Jets. The only thing that would hold them back is the fear of hiring another highly rated assistant with no actual NFL head-coaching experience. But I think Spagnuolo and Mangini are different enough for this to be an easy choice.

More later. Get ready for the afternoon's NFL games.

-- D.S.