Saturday, November 14, 2009

CFB Saturday Picks and Live-Comment

Saturday (Very) Quickie found directly below.

Cincy's close call should be a nice wake-up call for all the contenders out there, especially with so many playing on the road in trap-ish conditions. Let's get to the picks:

1 Florida over @ South Carolina
2 Alabama over @ Mississippi State
3 Texas over @ Baylor
4 TCU over 16 Utah -- Game of the Week
6 Boise State over Idaho -- Trap?
7 Georgia Tech over @ Duke
8 LSU over LA Tech
9 USC over Stanford
11 Ohio St over 10 Iowa
12 Pitt over Notre Dame
13 Oregon over Arizona St
14 Miami over @ UNC
15 Houston over @ UCF
17 Arizona over @ Cal
18 Penn State over Indiana
Texas Tech over 19 Oklahoma State -- Upset Special
20 Wisconsin over Michigan
Maryland over 21 VA Tech -- The kind of game that iffy MD always wins
22 BYU over @ New Mexico
23 Oregon St over Washington

Other Games of Note:
Northwestern over Illinois
Ole Miss over Tennessee
Clemson over @ NC St
Kansas St over Mizzou
Kansas over Nebraska
Navy over Delaware
Oklahoma over Texas A&M

(Picked USF: Wrong. Picked Cincy: Right, barely)

-- D.S.

Saturday 11/14 (Very) Quickie

CFB Picks and Live-Comment coming later this morning.

I really thought that Cincinnati was going to lose. It's unfair, but I'm not sure barely surviving at home against West Virginia is going to help their perception.

CBB Openers: Mississippi State -- one of the biggest bandwagon preseason teams -- lost to Rider.

Xavier Henry: Perhaps we have been focusing on the wrong college hoops freshman. John Wall suspended from Kentucky's opener; Henry leads KU to a romp.

(Speaking of John Wall: What does it say that Wall's BACKUP -- fellow frosh Eric Bledsoe -- scored 24 in Kentucky's win.)

Harrison Barnes going to UNC: Love he did it over Skype. Not enthralled with UNC as a good place for players with a one-and-done aspiration, but look at Marvin Williams -- he didn't even start, won a national title and bolted to become the No. 2 pick of the NBA Draft. Not a bad template.

In case you were wondering whether the Nuggets were a legit contender in the West, they are. (And if Artest is supposed to be the defensive stopper, he didn't do a very good job -- Melo torched him.) And the Nuggets held the Lakers to 23 points in the 2nd half. 23.

Hawks beat Celtics: Like the Cavs beating the Magic, it really doesn't matter in November -- it matters if you do it in May. That said, perhaps the result is directional.

Chris Paul ankle injury = karmic payback for firing Byron Scott? No, but it's fun to say.

It's a CFB Saturday. TCU-Utah is your Game of the Day. Ohio State and Iowa are playing a de facto Big Ten title game. And something crazy has to happen today, right?

-- D.S.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Tebow, Florida and Expectations

This week's Yahoo-Tebow column is about expectations. (In addition to reading the post below and the Yahoo post, you may want to triangulate with this complementary post on TimTeblog.)

Over the years, I have talked a lot about expectations as one of the cornerstones of fandom. In a way, expectations are everything.

High expectations better be met. Not meeting them is the worst outcome for a sports fan.

Low expectations? I once had a great journalism professor who swore by low expectations: "If you meet them, you're satisfied and if you exceed them, you're thrilled."

Modest expectations are trouble. I'm convinced most fans do a pretty good job of adjusting their expectations accordingly -- maybe it's a few more wins, maybe it's making the playoffs.

In some cases, the expectation is the most severe it can be: "Championship or failure."

That's the way it was for UNC hoops this past spring. That's the way it was for the Yankees in the World Series a week ago. (I actually respect the Yankees and their fans for that more than anything.)

And that's the way it is for Florida football this year -- this team is so good that the expectation is a national championship.

Is that fair? I think so. It's not like "Title or bust" is common -- we save it for the teams with $250 million payrolls and defending college football national champs who return everyone.

Folks who have heard me go back to my Florida fan "origin story" know that the win-or-bust expectations were part of the lure for me.

What is the result? Not all positive: When the team DOES win the title, it's expected. And NOT winning the title? God forbid.

But there is something clarifying about the outlook:

It makes it easy to shake off short-term problems -- like an offense with a perception of sputtering -- and focus on the important stat: "And-oh."

As long as the Gators keep winning, Gator Nation should be satisfied -- even happy. HOW they win should be irrelevant.

(I think an expectation that this team would mow down everyone and establish itself as the greatest team of all time -- expectations I admit to harboring in the hypothetical-driven offseason -- is ludicrous. If historical superlatives are important to you, isn't it enough that the defense is one of the greatest of all time?)

I definitely admit to micro-managing my anxiety about the season so far: Don't play Tebow! Give the ball to Demps more! What's going on with this freaking offense? Where's the pass protection? Stop with all the dive plays already!

It got to the point when, during last Saturday's game against Vanderbilt, I found myself feeling dissatisfied. Dissatisfied! About a win! A convincing win!

It was a moment of clarity for me.

I fully own up: If this team loses, it will be devastating for me as a fan -- probably to lots of Florida fans. That's because my expectations are so high.

But that's OK.

I think "Title or Fail" expectations don't come around very often -- at some point, Florida will not be a title-contending juggernaut (hell: just look at 2007), and expectations will be refined, revamped and reconstructed.

I want to appreciate this high-wire act of "Title or Fail."

That means conceding the day-to-day or week-to-week freak-outs that come with HOW the team is winning.

I can totally live with that. Just keep winning, that's all I can ask for.

-- D.S.

Friday 11/13 Quickie: Pats-Colts,
LeBron-Wade, TCU-Utah, More

Pats-Colts is the regular-season game of the year -- not just in the NFL, but in all of sports. (That's the lead of today's SN column.)

That is, if the recent audience figures are any indication. It seems like whenever the Cowboys are on in primetime... or Favre in Green Bay anytime... the NFL is defying trends about "audience fragmentation" and pulling fans together in close-to-unprecedented ways. (You'll have to excuse me: I've been at a sports-media conference the last two days and I've got these things on the brain.)

More you'll find in today's column:
*NFL Week 10 preview. You mean there are games besides Pats-Colts?

*CFB Preview: TCU-Utah! And a defacto Big Ten championship game!

*LeBron vs. D-Wade: Just found out LeBron is changing his number from 23 to 6, out of deference to Michael Jordan.

*John Lackey as the new AJ Burnett?

*Kentucky tips off tonight, Harrison Barnes makes his college choice and I take my older son to his first-ever basketball game.

Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday 11/12 Quickie: Manning vs. Brees, LeBron vs. Magic, LeFevour vs. Tebow, More

Sorry for the delay. Hopefully, you've already wandered over to to see today's column. If not, here you go.

The lead? The NFL (mid-)season's biggest debate: Peyton Manning or Drew Brees?

But, like that creepy Enterprise car commercial, why choose? I can have the black nightie AND the red one! (Just don't ask me to tell you which player is which.)

The fact is: They're co-MVPs. If Peyton loses this weekend to the Pats, Brees will nudge ahead. If the Colts finish 15-1 and the Saints finish 14-2, Peyton will nudge ahead. It's a toss-up.

(I'm partial to Brees. Peyton doesn't need the help -- Brees is a model for every 6-foot-nuthin' QB in the world that they can dominate the NFL.)

More you'll find in today's column:

*There is not much less of a predictive outcome than the Cavs beating the Magic in Orlando last night. Show me something in May, when Orlando has their TWO stretch-4s back.

*Dan LeFevour is awesome, and it is only after he is gone that fans will appreciate the level at which he has dominated college football in his career. Last night: 6 TDs.

*I'm very very excited about TCU-Utah on Saturday.

*I'm less excited about Bears-49ers tonight.

*Brandon Jennings is getting (even) better.

*Of course the Phillies won't trade Cole Hamels.

*The joke that is Notre Dame football coaching doesn't end with Charlie Weis.

There's a lot more there -- instead of having it start your morning, have it start your afternoon? Complete column here.

(Alas: Nothing about the Tennessee football botched-burglary debacle. But presume I'm shaking my head in disbelief.)

Back to the world of sports media execs...

-- D.S.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Huffington Post Sports Launches

Huffington Post Sports launched today, edited by Whitney Snyder, introduced by Arianna Huffington and it looks like they took my advice.

Their contributors list includes the outstanding Dave Zirin, Jeff Ma and Peter Casey -- three folks I ID'ed back in late August as ideal to pitch in to HuffPo Sports.

Other contributors on Day 1: Mike Lupica(?!), agent Arn Tellem, sports stat gurus David Berri (Wages of Wins) and Wayne Winston (Mathletics and last seen working blue on TrueHoop); Chris Tsakalakis (President of StubHub); blogger Eric Angevine; athlete Shannon Rowbery; lawya Roger Abrams; and columnist Paula Duffy.

They all get it: Promotion through contributing to Huffington Post is a great way to build their brands -- the front door of HuffPo is powerful enough that links there can turn HuffPo Sports into a player.

One piece of it is landing "name" contributors. One piece of it is HuffPo's expertise in SEO and other traffic-generating site optimization. One piece of it is curating the best of what's out there on other sports sites, particularly ones breaking news.

And the other -- possibly most important -- piece is HuffPo's ability to latch onto the most popular memes in sports on any given day and inserting itself in the middle of them: The topics that transcend avid sports fans and appeal either to the casual fan or the non-fan (the recent women's soccer thing comes to mind). The site currently leads with Sammy Sosa's freakish face, which was No. 1 on Google Trends on Monday.

The site is going to be successful because the gameplan is simple and extremely effective -- it's the old Green Bay Packers "Lombardi sweep" for the Internet age.

Will it be embraced by the rest of sports media -- particularly the sports-blog universe? Frankly, it doesn't need to be.

(Update: And, in its first 24 hours, it's not. It's being mocked for the most part. One description was "Sports Site For Fans Who Don't Really Care About Sports." You jest, but that is called competitive differentiation. The landscape to reach sports fans is competitive enough as it is; if HuffPo recognizes an underserved "casual fan" audience and serves that audience well, that's to their credit.)

(UPDATE to Update: I mis-characterized the "mockery" above -- the good folks at SB Nation were merely ID'ing the HuffPo's market, and -- in fact -- agreed with me that it is an underserved niche with incredible potential. Apologies for misreading and any misleading I did.)

But if the growth trajectory of the original Huffington Post is any template, the number of contributors will skyrocket over the next few months -- sports bloggers are nothing if not happy to write for free, if it means a little extra self-promotion and the promise of new traffic -- and the page views will be fueled with help from the front-page firehose.

It's a smart spin-off and a solid debut.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 11/11 Quickie: College Hoops,
ManBrees, Wade, Hot Seats, Northwestern

You can keep Kansas. You can have Kentucky (but not Wall!) For the most intriguing story of the college hoops season (today's SN column lead), I'll take my alma mater, Northwestern.

Why? Because they've never been to the NCAA Tournament -- and this year is their best shot ever to do it. NU even makes Sporting News' projection of the Tournament field.

This is huge. Sure, they might only be a 20-win team, not even worthy of the Top 25 (I'll take it!) But there is something compelling about the "never-been" novelty.

That's not to say Kansas won't be a great team -- or that Kentucky, as I argue, isn't the most intriguing college basketball team since UNLV 1991. (Go ahead: Name a bigger one.)

It's just that Northwestern is.... well, Northwestern.

The rest of the column today is actually loaded: I coin the name "ManBrees" to account for the NFL midseason awards co-MVP of Manning and Brees... I salute Dwyane Wade (and Joakim Noah!)... I mock RichRod and Weis (what else is new)... and I have a ton of Hot Stove.

Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday 11/10 Quickie: Wishful Thinking,
Steelers, LJ, LeBron, Weis, Boeheim, Isiah

So I was inspired this morning by two bits of wishful thinking:

First, that LeBron might -- just might -- play for your contender, even if you don't have Knicks-like money to throw at him.

If winning -- not just winning, but winning epically -- matters so much to LeBron, then the obvious answer is for him to play a series of one-year, league-minimum deals with a new contender each year, racking up titles and turning himself into the living embodiment of Championship. It sounds far-fetched, but anyone with billion-dollar-global-brand aspirations like James needs to think that way. (And it would be insanely good for the NBA -- the one exception to the "wouldn't it be nice if all players stayed with one team their entire careers" blue-sky thinking.)

Second, that Notre Dame might -- just might -- hire Urban Meyer away from Florida. This won't happen, because ND won't think big enough. They think that if they offer him $6 million, he'd leave. (a) That's not enough of a difference from what he makes now (and Florida would give him a raise anyway), and (b) Meyer has more talent in the next three years on his roster than he's had in the past three years.

I have a very simple way the Irish can ensure this will happen: Offer him $100 million -- $10 million a year for 10 years. That's more than double the highest-paid coach (Pete Carroll) and unprecedented security, worthy of the best college football coach... dare I say: Of all time?

It seems like a ludicrous number until you realize how much impact a great coach has on a college football program. Now imagine the greatest coach at the historically greatest college football program. They'll make back that $100 mil on the next TV deal, alone. He's worth it.

(Not that Cincy's Brian Kelly is a bad runner-up: In two years, Kelly could have ND competing for BCS championships... at $3 million a year.)

Lots more today:
*Larry Johnson!
*Jim Boeheim!
*Isiah Thomas!
*Deonte Thompson and Ed Davis!
*SEC officiating!

See the whole column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Monday 11/09 Quickie: Cowboys, TCU,
Unbeatens, Freeman, College Hoops, More

"Team to beat" is a wonderfully elastic concept -- one week, it's the Eagles. The next week, it's the Cowboys. (It's a good lead for today's SN column.)

In a sport like pro football, where any individual win or loss is not season-crushing, it's a useful construction.

In college football, it's a little stricter: It's been Texas and Florida/Alabama winner since August (if not earlier) and no Utah-style awesomeness from TCU will change that... until 2 of those top 3 lose.

In college hoops, which starts tonight, UNC was the team to beat wire-to-wire last season -- this year, it seems pretty clear that Kansas and Kentucky are on a collision course. (Obviously, college hoops regular season losses, at least among the elite, don't make a difference in a team's ability to win the championship.)

As with every Monday, it's a loaded column today -- with comments about every NFL game, a bunch of items about the weekend in college football and a lot more.

See the whole thing here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

This Week's BlogPoll Top 25: Oreg-ugh

UPDATE: I totally forgot to add in USC. No subliminal loathing there, or anything. Anyway, sorry Navy: You're out. USC is in -- below Oregon and above Ohio State... where they belong.

1 Florida 2
2 Texas 1
3 TCU 1
4 Cincinnati
5 Alabama
6 Boise State 1
7 Georgia Tech 3
8 Utah 3
9 Arizona 9
10 LSU 2
11 Oregon 5
12 Southern Cal 2
13 Ohio State 2
14 Houston 1
15 Pittsburgh 1
16 Iowa 7
17 Oregon State
18 Virginia Tech 1
19 Miami (Florida) 2
20 Oklahoma State 1
21 Stanford
22 South Florida
23 Mississippi
24 Arkansas
25 Clemson
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Penn State (#12), Oklahoma (#20), California (#23), Auburn (#24), Notre Dame (#25).

For the first time in a long time, I have Florida-Texas as 1-2 in my BlogPoll ballot. Even with Florida's struggles offensively, the defense is the best in college football in a decade.

I still love TCU. TCU is this year's Utah: It will go undefeated this season, including a BCS-level bowl win over a "name" team (Alabama? Oh, the irony!), but finish the season at No. 2.

I still love Cincy -- although giving up 40+ to UConn doesn't say much about Cincy's D. Alabama has the opposite problem, although Bama's offense DID look better yesterday.

And we can all now stop worrying about the Boise-Oregon ranking situation (however, Boise fans should be concerned that TCU has the edge for the non-BCS BCS at-large bowl slot).

But, honestly, after the Top 10... I'm at a loss. I fully 'fess up it could be a mess. Check it out, with more comments below:

1 Florida 2
2 Texas 1
3 TCU 1
4 Cincinnati
5 Alabama
6 Boise State 1
7 Georgia Tech 3
8 Utah 3
9 Arizona 9
10 LSU 2
11 Oregon 5
12 Ohio State 3
13 Houston
14 Pittsburgh 2
15 Iowa 6
16 Oregon State
17 Virginia Tech 2
18 Miami (Florida) 1
19 Oklahoma State 2
20 Stanford
21 South Florida 1
22 Mississippi
23 Arkansas
24 Clemson
25 Navy
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Penn State (#12), Southern Cal (#14), Oklahoma (#20), California (#23), Auburn (#24), Notre Dame (#25).

I dropped Penn State out entirely, even though their losses were to ranked Ohio State and ranked Iowa (I usually give a lot of credit for "good" losses). But both were at home, and the rest of PSU's resume makes Boise's schedule look good.

Thought for the Day

When the season started, all the talk was about whether Tim Tebow would finish his career as the greatest college football player of all time. That may have been tabled, but what was mostly overlooked -- until recently -- is that this Florida defense is not just the best in the country this season, but is on par with the legendary 2001 Miami D... perhaps even better. And, to that point, among the greatest defenses of all time. This Florida team can absolutely win the national title behind the defense, the special teams and just enough Tebow, Demps, Hernandez and Cooper. With this D, it just won't take much O. It is that good.

Sunday 11/08 (CFB) Quickie

A win's a win. At this point in the season -- perhaps in this era of college football -- "style points" are an archaic concept. Just survive, week to week. It's not that easy, as Iowa and Oregon fans will tell you.

*Florida wins without style -- just the best defense in college football.

*Alabama won without style -- in a slugfest with LSU, that's all you can hope for.

*Cincinnati won a shootout -- Collaros for Heisman!

(There's an interesting corollary to the "style points are dead" idea about Cincy: By all rights, their defense was exposed last night -- the offense may be the most dynamic in the country... it remains to be seen how it would fare against a Texas, Florida or even TCU... but the defense doesn't look like it could stop a top-tier team. I wonder how many voters will use that UConn point total against Cincy. They're still a Top 5 team; I wouldn't rank them ahead of TCU, though.)

*Georgia Tech gritted out a win over Wake.

*My god: Did you see the Houston finish?

And then there's the flip side: Iowa finally couldn't maintain the "win's a win" philosophy. And Oregon got caught in a post-USC hangover. And Penn State made themselves irrelevant. And Notre Dame... oh, Notre Dame.

It must hurt Irish fans to know that the rest of the country revels in the schadenfreude (we all nervously recognize that you're a Brian Kelly hire from being a juggernaut).

And then there was the Jahvid Best injury -- without knowing the specifics of the decision-making to let him play after last week's "mild" concussion, it now seems utterly derelict -- if not criminally, then certainly medically and ethically -- to have let him play. If Urban Meyer could be fined $30K for criticizing SEC officials and Mike Locksley could be suspended for a game for an office altercation, what would you do with the negligent Jeff Tedford?

So Florida-Alabama is set for the SEC title game as a de facto national semifinal (presuming both teams win out through then), but more immediately: TCU could virtually clinch the non-BCS BCS at-large bid by beating Utah next week, and Ohio State could virtually clinch the Big Ten title by beating Iowa next week.

BlogPoll ballot first draft coming a little later today.

-- D.S.