Friday, September 14, 2012

09/14 (Weekend) Quickie

A little home-team cheerleading: USA TODAY relaunched the newspaper today -- if you check out the sports section, the historically snoozy "Sportsline" section on the left side of the first page of the sports section has a much more of a "Quickish" vibe. Proud to say I played a small role in that. Meanwhile, relaunches tomorrow -- give it a look over the weekend. Our college football and NFL coverage throughout the day will help you keep up with all of the big (and fun) storylines.


*The Packers didn't look great, but the Bears looked even worse. (Maybe I'm just bitter about Green Bay because I started both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on my fantasy team.)

*Week 2 Picks: Bills over Chiefs, Bengals over Browns, Colts over Vikings, Panthers over Saints, Texans over Jaguars, Raiders over Dolphins, Pats over Cards, Giants over Bucs, Ravens over Eagles, Redskins over Rams, Cowboys over Seahawks, Jets over Steelers, Chargers over Titans, 49ers over Lions, Falcons over Broncos.

*CFB picks: I'm picking all seeded teams (or higher-ranked teams) to win. I always root for upsets, but just don't see any.

*CFB Game of the Weekend: Florida at Tennessee. It coulda/shoulda/woulda been Alabama at Arkansas, but the Hogs' loss to Louisiana-Monroe last week combined with starting QB Tyler Wilson missing the game means that Alabama is going to obliterate them even more than they would have if Arkansas was unbeaten and at full strength. If there was an upset to watch it's Stanford over USC.

Fun weekend ahead. Enjoy it.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

09/13 (Calhoun) Quickie

Jim Calhoun came across like a bit of a bully. He also was in charge of a program that might have done some pretty sketchy* things and is on the NCAA's spit list.

He was also one of the Top 3 greatest men's college basketball coaches of the past 30 years.

What threads that top 3 together -- Calhoun, Coach K and Rick Pitino (sorry, Bob Knight) -- is that they all took unsuccessful programs and turned them into champs.

(In K's case, Duke had slid into mediocrity; he turned it into a perennial Final Four team. In Pitino's case, he took an also-ran at Providence to the Final Four, which is like another coach taking a better program and winning it all; clearly, Pitino rebuilding Kentucky wasn't quite the same level of difficulty, but nonetheless, he delivered one of the most devastating teams of all time.)

Jim Calhoun went from Northeastern to a UConn program with zero identity beyond being the laughingstock of the most visible and most competitive conference in college sports history and -- over a hell of a long slog -- molded into a championship team not once, not twice, but three times, across three different player eras.

He totally out-coached Coach K in the '99 title game. He rode the country's best player to a title against an iffy field in 2004. And then, in his masterpiece, he engineered a Cinderella run behind a 6-foot superstar in 2011. Three titles, all from a program that began as a punching bag.

There is no analogue in college basketball. The coaching job he did was among the finest in the sport's history -- probably more impressive than Pitino, arguably more impressive even than Coach K.

We will never see anything like it again in college hoops, a worst-to-first storyline building over nearly two decades, followed by a stretch of a dozen years in the top tier of the sport -- replacing rebuilding with reloading -- and with two national titles to show for it.

The struggles at the end with the NCAA simply cannot erode the staggering success.

* -- Not particularly sketchy, one of my favorite memories of my career is sitting in a, um, "bar" in Tampa at 3 in the morning the night in 1999 when UConn upset Duke to win the NCAA Tournament. Up rolls the Huskies in various sports cars and luxury limos. They proceeded to, um, make it rain. I didn't file that story.


Notre Dame joins the ACC: Yes, it's about the money. Yes, it's about the coming college football playoff. Yes, it's about creating a bit more certainty for ND in its scheduling. Yes, it's about the ACC making a power move to keep pace among the conferences in the second tier after the SEC. (The Pac-12 was already there; the Big Ten enjoys a lot of security; the last time we heard from the ACC, they were potentially going to lose Florida State to the Big 12 -- not anymore.)

The Big Ten must be wondering how they lost out on this, but it's simple: The ACC commish Jack Swofford is a better wheeler-dealer than the Big Ten's Jim Delany. Is it a shame that Notre Dame is going to replace Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue and others on its schedule with ACC teams? Yes, when it's ND vs. Wake or ND vs. Duke or ND vs. Maryland; no, when it's ND vs. FSU, which should happen every year.

MLB: Yankees-Red Sox. I actually like the Red Sox a lot more when they have nothing more to play for than to spoil the Yankees' season.

MLB: Interleague play in 2013 will start on April 1st -- sure, why not?

CFB: My favorite part about this week's BlogPoll Top 25 is that my temporary placement of Louisiana-Monroe at No. 2 drew the jeers of poll administrator Andy Hutchins in his weekly analysis of ballots. I swear I wasn't trolling: They have played a single game, it was on the road at a Top 10 team (nevermind that in hindsight, they aren't a top 10 team) and they won. Can any other team in the Top 25 point to a "better" win? Maybe Utah State over Utah, but that was at Utah State. Maybe Clemson over Auburn, but Auburn is 0-2. Maybe Arizona over Oklahoma State, but that was at Arizona -- and I don't think anyone thought as highly of OSU as they did of Arkansas. I'm just saying: If you go by "resume" -- what a team has done THIS season, on the field, not last season or in preseason polls -- ULM has as good of an argument as anyone except Alabama. Will that change as they play worse teams (or lose)? Sure. But for now? I'll stand by my pick.

My favorite thing I tipped on Quickish on Wednesday: SmartFootball's Chris Brown, via Grantland, on the plays that made RGIII a success. (I can't get enough RGIII. BTW, NBC Sports Network has a new weekly show called "Turning Point" that is excellent -- they had a segment on the Skins-Saints game that was awesome. The whole show was great.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

09/11 (Finally) Quickie

Thoughts with all those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues 11 years ago -- or in the ensuing years since, as a result. Unfortunately, a blunt transition to the superficiality of sports...

Three words: Andy. Murray. Finally.

Any time you have a longtime top-tier athlete or team "finally" win a championship, it is a wonderful moment. There is a special awesomeness to Andy Murray's first Grand Slam title.

I would argue that no team/athlete had to contend with a competitive environment as difficult as Murray. Not the Barkley/Ewing/Malone-Stockton NBA during the Jordan years. Not MLB contenders during the Yankees dynasty. Certainly not the NFL or college basketball. The closest analogue would be any college football team outside of the SEC beating an SEC team for the national title -- but only after the SEC extends its dominance from 6 straight titles to 16 or 36.

That is the only way to grasp the roadblock in front of Andy Murray during his prime: Roger Federer, only the greatest tennis player of all time. Rafa Nadal, probably in the Top 5 all-time (if not Top 3). Novak Djokovic, who will probably finish his career in the Top 3 and is at his peak right now.

And so Murray's first Slam championship is extra-sweet -- years of frustration, of looking up at the Rushmore of his sport, of nagging doubts and plenty of doubters. He finally gets his. Finally.

As Djokovic affirmed last night: It is impossible not to feel good for Murray today.


Ravens blow out Bengals: After years of being defined by its defense, the show that Baltimore put on last night foreshadows that this season might be the year the offense finally drives the bus.

Chargers beat the Raiders: That San Diego needed Oakland snapping problems to win the game doesn't bode well for San Diego's long-term chances of being a playoff contender. But 1-0 is 1-0.

RG3 Mania: I love the instant "Griffining is the new Tebowing" meme -- it fits the way Griffin exploded on the national scene on Sunday, carrying over to yesterday, where he was -- by far -- the No. 1 story of the NFL (and all of sports). Today's best RG3 pieces take a look at how Mike Shanahan veered from his offensive orthodoxies to take advantage of RG3's unique skills while recognizing he was only in his first-ever NFL game.

CBB: Academic fraud in college? You don't say! That it happens at Harvard the same way it happens everywhere else says less about Harvard than it does about college students more generally.

MLB: Gio Gonzalez for NL Cy? I'm not a big fan of "wins" as a Cy metric (he got his 19th last night), but it just so happens that Gio's advanced stats are just as impressive. (I'm a Nats fan, yet still partial to RA Dickey for Cy.) I will say that no offseason move was more savvy than DC GM Mike Rizzo trading some of the Nats' best prospects for Gonzalez, then locking him up for a half-decade at a reasonable rate for a league ace.

Clemens Watch: Houston is so irrelevant that I'm all for Roger Clemens pitching for them in the final few weeks of the season. Why not? It would be fun -- he's ageless. And he's probably pitch well, too. Hell, bring him back next year for a full run.

NFL vs. the Refs: Five more least? There were probably two dozen screw-ups on Sunday -- ranging from minor to Seattle-Arizona -- and the more weeks that go by, the greater chance of a defining snafu will occur.

How'd your fantasy team do in Week 1? One of my teams was tied going into the final game of the week, and my opponent got 2 measly points out of Heyward-Bey, which was enough to get the winning margin. My other team had Philip Rivers in the final game, and I won by 2 points. So I guess all it proves is that things tend to even out. BTW, if you are in a Yahoo league, check out the "recap" feature on your scoreboard, where a cool company called Automated Insights has generated a custom game recap for your team's game. It's pretty awesome.

-- D.S.

Monday, September 10, 2012

09/10 (RG3) Quickie

Three words: Robert. Griffin. III.

After last season’s Cam-Mania -- only the most exciting debut season in the history of the NFL -- I’m not sure anyone thought it could be topped, let alone topped less than a year later. And yet, here we are: RG3 exploded on the NFL scene like no player ever. (Yes, even Cam Newton.)

It was the combination of big plays and charisma and a franchise that resonates nationally and, most of all, the most unexpected win of the first week of the new NFL season.

The Redskins waltzed into the Superdome and lit up the Saints, a team that -- even if you allow for the bountygate distraction -- is nearly unbeatable at home, particularly if the opponent is a team that the year before was among the NFL’s dregs.

And so the NFL has a new super-duper-star -- a player instantly on par with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Cam Newton (and even Tim Tebow). RG3 might not be there with Super Bowl wins (yet), but his “OOH!” factor is right there.

He is the most must-see player in the NFL right now.

More NFL quickish-hits
*It is ludicrous to read too much into the first week of the NFL. But!
*The 49ers would like you to understand immediately they are here to win a title.
*The greatest achievement of Tim Tebow’s career was inspiring Mark Sanchez to THAT.
*Wow, we were so close to Philadelphiamageddon. Clearly it’s a “when not if” thing.
*Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are going to be an awesome combo until they implode.
*If there’s such a thing as a moral victory in the NFL, the Rams got one.
*As it turns out, “Hard Knocks” will be the highlight of the Dolphins’ season.
*Matt Barkley Watch: Close call, but should Seattle just tank the rest to get Carroll’s guy?
*I’m still on the Cam Newton bandwagon, but good seats suddenly available.

CFB Storyline I’m Still Thinking About This Morning: “Grown Man Football.” That was the impromptu post-game message scribbled on a white board and held up by Georgia players to their fans who had made the treck to Columbia to see the Bulldogs welcome Mizzou to the SEC. Both Missouri and Texas A&M hung in for a while, but ultimately, the culture shock -- represented fairly by blazingly fast future NFL anvils on the UGA and UF defensive sides -- was as inevitable as it was indomitable.

CFB Team of the Week: Louisiana-Monroe
, which when to Arkansas and beat the Razorbacks, who could be forgiven for looking ahead to next week’s make-or-break game hosting No. 1 Alabama... except before they could have lost to Bama, run the table otherwise and settled for a BCS-level bowl game. Now? Their season is a punchline.

Looking Ahead to CFB Next Week: Alabama at Arkansas suddenly feels a lot less epic... Florida at Tennessee might just decide the SEC East... If USC needed all four quarters to put away Syracuse, then Trojan nemesis Stanford has a puncher’s chance... This week’s Heisman ballot would go to: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller.

Serena: ‘Nuff said.

MLB: The Strasburg Shut-Down. I believe deeply in “process over outcome,” but I also believe in “flags fly forever.” Championship opportunities are not really “windows”; they are fleeting moments that are one-part design, one-part serendipity, one-part vagaries of chance -- just ask the 88-89-90 A’s or ‘91-99 Braves, two would-be dynasties that combined for as many championships as the carpetbagging Marlins. For the sake of Nats fans (of whom I count myself) -- not to mention GM Mike Rizzo and Strasburg himself -- I hope the Nats win a championship with Strasburg in the next five years. (Or just win one in October and shut everyone up for good.) Until then, this “what if?” defines the franchise.

Penn State: Saturday was the first time that the NCAA sanctions felt like they really hurt the program. There is a direct link from Sandusky and Paterno to the NCAA sanctions allowing any player to transfer without penalty to incumbent starting kicker TK bolting campus for Texas to replacement TK missing 4 of 5 FGs, any one of which made would have changed the game’s outcome, rather than put Penn State in an 0-2 hole to start the year.

Thoughts with Tulane’s Devon Walker, whose horrifying injury on Saturday cast a pall over the sports weekend.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

This Week's BlogPoll Top 25 Ballot

Alabama stays at the top, but if you're truly going to be a "resume"-based voter, the only intellectually defensible choice for No. 2 is Louisiana-Monroe, which has played just a single game this season -- and it happens to be the "best win" (level of opponent, location) of the season, across the nation. Here is the rest of the list, as usual mish-mash of "resume" and "Hey, wait, didn't you say you vote based largely on resume? If so, how do you explain X?"

SB Nation BlogPoll Top 25 College Football Rankings Ballot - Week 2

Rank Team Delta
1 Alabama Crimson Tide --
2 ULM Warhawks --
3 LSU Tigers --
4 Oregon Ducks Arrow_down -2
5 West Virginia Mountaineers --
6 Florida St. Seminoles Arrow_up 10
7 USC Trojans Arrow_down -3
8 Clemson Tigers Arrow_down -2
9 Ohio St. Buckeyes Arrow_up 1
10 Utah State Aggies --
11 Arizona Wildcats --
12 Oklahoma Sooners Arrow_up 2
13 South Carolina Gamecocks --
14 Michigan St. Spartans Arrow_down -6
15 Louisville Cardinals Arrow_up 5
16 Virginia Tech Hokies Arrow_down -4
17 Georgia Bulldogs Arrow_down -2
18 Florida Gators --
19 Kansas St. Wildcats --
20 Texas Longhorns --
21 TCU Horned Frogs Arrow_down -4
22 Tennessee Volunteers Arrow_up 1
23 Mississippi St. Bulldogs --
24 Michigan Wolverines Arrow_up 1
25 Arkansas Razorbacks Arrow_down -16
Dropouts: Ohio Bobcats, Utah Utes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Oklahoma St. Cowboys, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Colorado St. Rams, Boise St. Broncos
SB Nation BlogPoll College Football Top 25 Rankings »

9/9 CFB Hangover

Stray college football thoughts while waiting for today's NFL kickoff...

*Just when you think a week looks "boring":

- Arkansas is stunned (only a win over Alabama next week could save the Hogs' season now, and that ain't happening, and it gets worse if QB Tyler Wilson's injury carries over)...

- Oklahoma State loses to instantly rebuilt Arizona (mock RichRod all you want, but it's impressive)...

- Jim Mora leads UCLA to a signature win over Nebraska (which was probably overrated going into the week, but who cares)...

- Wisconsin loses on the road at Oregon State (making me look smart for not ranking the Badgers in my Top 25 last week)...

Not bad for a "slow" week. More:

*Welcome to the SEC: The best image of the day in college football was Georgia players, after their win over Mizzou, holding up a white board to the crowd with "Grown Man Football" scribbled on it.

*Penn State loses again: There is a straight-line correlation between the NCAA sanctions, the incumbent starting kicker transferring, the replacement missing 4 of 5 FGs and another L.

*No reason not to leave Alabama at No. 1. Might drop USC out of the Top 5 after they had trouble shaking Syracuse. Adding Utah State, TCU, Arizona, Mississippi State and Florida.

*Looking ahead to next week: (1) Alabama at Arkansas, (2) USC at Stanford, (3) Florida at Tennessee, (4) Notre Dame at Michigan State, (5) Utah State at Wisconsin.

*Thoughts with Tulane's Devon Walker.

-- D.S.