Friday, January 06, 2012

01/06 (Penn State + Playoffs) Quickie

Today's Name to Know: Bill O'Brien. The Patriots offensive coordinator is going to become the next football coach at Penn State. A few thoughts:

*His career as a college coach -- assistant level only -- was undistinguished. This is a red flag, not the least of which because the leap from OK assistant (with an NFL stop in-between) to head coach of a premier program is a huge one.

*His experience as a Belichick disciple is largely irrelevant. You certainly don't want to use Charlie Weis as your template. And the other folks -- Crennel, Mangini, McDaniels -- became flops in the NFL, not college, so it's apples and oranges.

*I have no problem with Penn State going "outside the program," which seems to have certain alumni players up in arms. These guys are fools. By necessity, they had to go outside the program.

If I had a problem with the hire, it's that he has no big-time college football experience and no head-coaching experience. That's a hell of a combination. (Some folks have mentioned Ron Zook as a comp -- that's a bit harsh, but point taken.)

Here's how this will play out: O'Brien's tenure at Penn State will be less than four years before he is fired. He will have accomplished what the program needs him to do: Wipe away the stench of the Sandusky scandal and Paterno's tainted legacy, setting the program up to hire a successful college head coach to return the program to its Top 20 stature.

It's a start, if not a full-blown re-boot. That is probably the best Penn State could have hoped for.


NFL Playoffs! Let's start with this: I'm picking the Packers to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl in a wild shootout. But let's focus on Wild Card Weekend:

*Bengals-Texans: This isn't the same Texans team that stormed through the first half of the season. (Neither is Cincy, frankly.) Pick: Cincinnati.

*Saints-Lions: It's a shame that the Lions' storybook turnaround season has to end here. They would have beaten the Giants and at least gotten to the quarterfinals. Pick: Saints.

*Giants-Falcons: The Falcons worked so hard last offseason to position their team to do better than last year's playoff run. They won't even make it out of Wild Card Weekend. Pick: Giants.

*Steelers-Broncos: I'm picking Tebow and the Broncos, obviously.... Wait for it... Kidding. Let's be totally clear: If the Broncos lose 55-0, it is still an incredibly successful season for Tebow and Denver. Nothing that happens on Sunday can take away from a shoddy team with expectations of winning maybe 4 games this season (or 2, starting the day Tebow was installed as the starter) riding Tebow enthusiasm and great D to a division title and playoff season. Pick: Steelers.

NBA: Kind of love that the Heat can beat the Hawks even without LeBron and Wade playing. My favorite Chris Bosh -- if there is such a thing -- is when he is forced into the No. 1 role from his usual No. 3 role, with no cushion of superstars around him.

NFL Draft: Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Wisconsin's Montee Ball are both returning to school, which should help set both teams up for Top 5 preseason spots -- and both players on Top 5 Heisman short-lists, along with another draft-spurner, USC QB Matt Barkley.

Varsity Dad, Part 1: I'm taking my 5-year-old to his first-ever Wizards game on Sunday. As a lifelong Bullets/Wizards fan, this feels like a cruel thing to introduce him to. But I'm separating rooting for the team from enjoying the in-arena experience. (Oh, and getting to see Ricky Rubio in person.)

Varsity Dad, Part 2: Gabe and his buddies in kindergarten have formed a basketball team. Practice starts tomorrow. (Games -- against other teams! -- start in a month!) I have volunteered as an assistant coach. This is going to be fun/absurd. I'll keep you updated.

Pop over to Quickish today
to catch up on the best of yesterday you might have missed and all the good stuff we're featuring today -- focused a bit this a.m. on Bill O'Brien but really diving into NFL Playoff previews this afternoon. Enjoy the games.

-- D.S.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

01/05 (Thursday) Quickie

*West Virginia rolls in Orange Bowl: Wow. That first half was a spectacle. This is the offensive brilliance of new coach Dana Holgorsen -- why he is going to push the pedal down next season (and why he might be on the fast track for a top-tier -- or top-ish -- coaching job despite what some might describe as an erratic personality).

*NFL Jobs: Jeff Fisher is reportedly down to the Rams or the Dolphins, with Miami reportedly unwilling to be out-bid for Fisher, which means that it's really about which team he would rather coach. The Rams have a draft spot that allows them to get instant help on the O-line -- or trade for a bounty to a team that covets Robert Griffin III. They have a ton of cap space. They have low expectations. The Dolphins are in a brutal division with excessive expectations and a pretty flaccid QB situation. (But, then again, there's South Beach.)

*MLB Hot Stove: Cubs trade Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins, where he will get a fresh start under manager Ozzie Guillen, with no pressure to be the staff ace. As a No. 3 or 4 starter? Well, if he can get his head on straight, it's a steal for the newly loaded Marlins. (All the NL East needs is Prince Fielder to become the most intriguing division in baseball.)

*CBB: No team has vaulted preseason expectations like Georgetown. Last week's win at Louisville was impressive enough; last night's win vs. Marquette -- coming from 17 down -- was even more impressive. This was supposed to be a very down year for the Hoyas. Instead, they are locked in on a Top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. (To what extent has the lack of expectations contributed to Georgetown playing so well? Qualitatively, it sure seems important.)

*More CBB: It's always fun when Duke loses. When they lose unexpectedly -- like they did last night to Temple -- it's even better. What did Duke in is what always does Duke in: They got out-muscled and they don't have enough players who can create their own shots. (The template for Duke success is always going to come back to that title team two years ago -- Zoubek on the inside and Nolan Smith on the outside.)

*NBA: The Heat played without Dwyane Wade against a Pacers squad that everyone thinks can play the spoiler in the East... and Miami destroyed them. Yeesh.

*Soccer: Tim Howard's goal was amazing. That he was like "Oh, no big deal" was even better. I'm all for fun celebrations, but sometimes no celebration is just as awesome.

Circle back to Quickish to catch up on yesterday's best -- and pop by today to keep up with the best takes on the biggest stories.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

01/04 (Michigan) Quickie

I don't think that Michigan needed to win the Sugar Bowl to declare itself "back" -- a 10-win season and a spot in a BCS-level bowl game (not to mention a win over Ohio State) was more than enough. But the win certainly didn't hurt.

(Let's be real: The refs helped, too, overturning that sensational VA Tech OT TD catch for which there wasn't nearly enough conclusive video evidence to flip the verdict. The Hokies didn't do themselves any favors with the missed FG in OT.)

NFL Job Stuff: You've got to feel bad for Chargers fans. Norv Turner and AJ Smith's ouster after a mediocre season is an inevitability -- this was the moment to make a clean break... The Bears GM job is a good one (so is its offensive coordinator job... would you want to know they are re-signing Matt Forte before accepting?)... You shouldn't be surprised that Andy Reid will be back in Philadelphia, despite what could/should be pinned as one of the worst coaching jobs -- relative to expectations -- of the past decade.

CFB Jobs: Boise has locked up Chris Petersen, who seems content to keep churning out 11-win seasons in Idaho against mediocre competition (and the occasional giant). It's a pretty smart system, actually, and if he could just recruit a kicker who won't choke in the team's biggest game of each season, he would actually get to play for national titles. That's a backhanded compliment -- I am all for his choice to be a big fish in a small pond.

NBA: The Lakers are fine. They won't win the NBA title (ha! hardly.), but they certainly aren't the dud they seemed to be as the season tipped off.

CBB: I really try not to read too much into single regular-season performances by would-be contenders -- well, sometimes I read too much into stellar performances, but I try not to file away the lousy ones. That said: It's hard to catch UConn losing to Seton Hall and not think that the Huskies won't be adding six more consecutive wins to their current NCAA Tournament streak.

Sports x Politics: I wasn't far off on my Iowa caucus picks from yesterday morning! Maybe I should just launch the Quickish Politics spin-off now and punt sports.

Best Thing I've Read This Week (So Far): Michael Rosenberg in this week's SI, on Tom Brady's formative season at Michigan battling Drew Henson.

Stick with Quickish to catch up on all the good stuff you might have missed yesterday -- and pop by all day today to keep up with the best takes on the moment's biggest stories.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

01/03 (Bowl Hangover) Quickie

Oklahoma State is a very (very) good football team. They vanquished Oklahoma. They won the Big 12. They beat a very good Stanford team in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Cowboys are not the No. 1 team in the country if Alabama beats LSU next week. I'm typically a "split-the-title" person, egging on the AP to nullify the BCS by picking an alternative champ. In this case, it's really hard to justify picking an OSU team that simply can't play defense and lost to Iowa State ahead of an Alabama team that would have lost by a field goal to overwhelming then-No. 1 LSU, then turned around and beat them.

That doesn't mean Oklahoma State didn't have a marvelous season. A Top 3 finish is hardly something to sniff at, particularly if your program has been as historically second-tier as OSU.

But if OSU getting snubbed inspires systemic change that generates a four-team playoff? That's an even bigger/better legacy than winning a national championship.


*Gosh, is Oregon fun to watch. I'd love to see Oregon play Oklahoma State. I think Oregon would throttle them. (It's a testament to just how good LSU is -- and USC, frankly -- that they came out ahead of the Ducks when they played.

*Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson needed to know that 2 seconds isn't enough time to spike the ball. Just run a play and take your chances. It sure beats the alternative.

*Andrew Luck doesn't sound very excited about playing in Indianapolis if Peyton Manning is still there -- and he shouldn't be.

*Justin Blackmon is going to have as big of an impact next year as an NFL rookie as AJ Green did in Cincinnati this year. He might not make the playoffs, but he will make some terrible offense a lot better.

*OK, so the Heat aren't going to go 66-0? (Let's remember: The only thing that matters with the Heat is that Miami gets 16 wins in the postseason. That's it. That's all. Nothing else.)

*The NHL Winter Classic was terrific this year. Unless you're a fan of the Flyers or Rangers, it doesn't matter who won -- it's one of the great TV spectacles you'll get all year. A dramatic game is just a bonus.

*NFL Black Monday: It was time for a regime change from the Polians in Indy... Tough break for Raheem Morris in Tampa -- he has been doomed for weeks... If the Rams can pick up a big haul for that No. 2 pick (or simply take the best available OT), they are a great job opportunity... Beyond Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher is the biggest name on the market; I think he ends up with the Colts (and Luck).

*Rex Ryan lost control of the Jets: The question is whether his system -- his management style -- creates an atmosphere where players freak out. The short-term answer is probably to be less sure of himself that he can handle headcases and stick to a more Belichickean strategy of recruiting a compliant roster.

*Bowling tonight: Michigan vs. VA Tech. Zzz.

*Politics: Iowa caucuses prediction time! Paul 24, Romney 23, Santorum 19.

-- D.S.

Monday, January 02, 2012

01/02 (New Year's) Quickie

2012? A national holiday featuring tons of college football bowl games, the NHL Winter Classic and NFL playoff anlysis? Legggooo...

Today's Names to Know: Victor Cruz, Tim Tebow, Matt Flynn, Peyton Manning (and Andrew Luck), DeMarcus Cousins, Winter Classic, Chip Kelly, Montee Ball, Mike Gundy, Scott Hanson and more.

*NFL Playoffs: I'm looking forward to the Packers and Patriots riding home-field advantage all the way to a Super Bowl match-up that will feature the teams combining for more than 85 points, because neither team's defense can stop the other team's offense. That is a best-case scenario and that is what we're going to get.

Everything else is an appetizer. Love the idea of the Giants muscling into the Division Round. Hate that the Lions' amazing season will end simply because they can't stop the Saints in New Orleans. (FWIW: Even the 49ers will have trouble stopping the Saints in San Francisco.)

Love that either the Bengals or the Texans will be advancing to the NFL's quarterfinals. Love that the Broncos -- the Broncos! -- earning a home playoff game is somehow a problem. (So the Steelers are going to beat them -- perhaps even throttle them. So what? See the next item.)

Defense wins championships? Not this year. If this is the Year of the Quarterback (and there is a pretty good case it's just as much a Year of Gronkowski/Graham), it seems appropriate that Rodgers will have to out-duel Brees (and Graham) to win the NFC, with the winner meeting Brady (and Gronk) for a championship.

*Tebow: Let's be clear -- you will call me a Tebow apologist (an enabler!) and you will have a very strong argument. But no matter how Tebow and the Broncos enter the playoffs -- winning streak, losing streak, whatever -- they are entering the playoffs. They have out-performed 20 other teams, at least as it relates to the most important goal of the season.

The Broncos are going to get throttled next week by the Steelers? Who cares! Three other teams are going to lose in the first round of the playoffs, too.

The point is that Tim Tebow led the Broncos into the playoffs. The playoffs! The Broncos! A team that, before the season, was expected to win maybe 4 or 5 games as a best-case scenario -- even fewer if Tebow was given the chance to start at QB. But Tebow is going to get shellacked in the first round of the playoffs! is the dumbest sports argument of the day. The most important words in that statement are "Tebow" and "playoffs."

Every NFL season is an exercise in expectations management. The overall parity means that most teams think they have a shot at making the playoffs -- their fans would be thrilled if that happened. Some teams are "Super Bowl title or bust." The Broncos' expectations -- expectations for Tebow -- were nothing short of "Suck enough to give Elway the license to boot Tebow and draft a real QB." (That was the expectation as recently as midway through the Broncos' Tebowfied winning streak!)

The Broncos have -- and Tebow has -- exceeded expectations more than any other team in the NFL this season. That is -- excuse the blasphemy -- damn impressive.

*Colts: This is a no-brainer. Cut Peyton Manning loose. Draft Andrew Luck. Move on. I cannot believe that there is even a debate or discussion that the team should keep Manning around (at an exorbitant, franchise-crippling rate). It's not like the team is going to draft a question mark at QB -- Luck is the best NFL prospect to come out of college since Manning himself (except Luck was even more pro-ready in college than Manning). Again: This is the biggest no-brainer in the entire history of all "This team has a big decision to make" decisions.

*Matt Flynn: The greatest single-game performance by a Packers QB in team history -- and almost certainly the greatest performance by a QB in the final week of the regular season in NFL history. Good for Flynn -- that was a ton of fun to follow. It's not like the Packers didn't need every single one of those 6 TDs or four hundred gazillion yards passing. I love that at least some fantasy championships were won (or lost) on Flynn's hot hand, and I love that the kid is going to get paid off that performance to get his chance to start somewhere else. (I could absolutely see the Redskins going in for him -- what they and Flynn will both realize is that the Skins ain't the Packers.)

*CFB Bowls: To those whose teams' seasons end today -- like mine -- it's bittersweet no matter what the game result, because the season is over. No more Saturdays to look forward to, until September. Unless you're a recruiting nut or spring-practice hawk (guilty).

The best game of the day is Oklahoma State vs. Stanford, but I'm happy to watch Wisconsin-Oregon as an appetizer and Florida-Ohio State before that. (Warning: The Gators-Buckeyes game is going to make your eyes bleed with terrible offense.)

*NHL Winter Classic: Saw some rumblings from SI's Michael Farber about the empty mythology of the game, but it remains the single-biggest draw of the season for the NHL -- its greatest idea to market the game to the masses in the sport's history. Don't care who's playing -- must-see.

*NBA: DeMarcus Cousins wants out of Sacramento (and they want him out, too). As a Wizards fan whose team has the weakest power frontcourt in the NBA, I would gladly take Cousins to join his former Kentucky running mate John Wall. Seems like a no-brainer, frankly.

*One final salute to Scott Hanson, host of NFL Red Zone Channel on Sunday afternoons, the most delightful TV experience I have ever had, once I got my very first taste of RZC in Week 1. See... you... next... season.

-- D.S.