Saturday, September 29, 2012

9/29 (CFB Craziness) Quickie

That West Virginia-Baylor game (70-63 final) was the most entertaining regular-season college football game I have ever seen, topping my old favorite Northwestern over Michigan 52-50, which seems plodding by comparison. Geno Smith: My goodness. Happy to let him be the Heisman front-runner until further notice. And can't wait for West Virginia-Texas next weekend.

Friday, September 28, 2012

9/28 (Weekend) Quickie

Last night's NFL game was a preview of the dominant storyline of the upcoming weekend:

NFL refs being showered with affection by fans in every stadium they enter.

The support may be short-lived, but the image is powerful -- I can't remember the last time I saw refs so glowingly cheered (and responding).

I'm sure it made the refs feel good. I'm sure it made the fans feel good. I'm sure it made players and coaches feel good.

And I'm sure it made the NFL feel good that Monday's "Fail Mary" is all but forgotten, a distant memory of "that time we had those replacement refs."

There will be plenty of iffy calls on Sunday -- there always are. But appreciate the momentary and mutual cheerfulness between fans, refs, players and league.


*Stanford loses to Washington: So Stanford isn't as good as we thought (and USC really isn't as good as we thought) and another would-be BCS crasher is out (not that Stanford was getting by Oregon in the Pac-12 anyway). Is this a harbinger of odd outcomes this weekend or did we get the notable result out of the way already?

*CFB Picks: I'll take all ranked (or higher-ranked) teams to win, except I'll take Arizona at home over Oregon State. I'm not picking Texas to lose at Oklahoma State, but -- in a lame hedge -- it wouldn't surprise me. Oh, and I'll take Ohio State over Michigan State -- Urban Meyer is great at beating tertiary rivals (in addition to beating primary and secondary ones regularly, too).

*Ravens beat Browns: Zzz. I mean, we all saw this coming, and I guess that if you're a Browns fan, you're happy you were at least competitive? Then consider that Baltimore was playing its 4th game in 18 days. Anyway, another win for the Ravens and a little hope for the Browns.

*RA Dickey wins 20th: The best player story in baseball this season -- perhaps the best player story in all of sports in 2012. It's going to end with a Cy Young Award for the knuckleballer, and even a Nats fan who loves Gio Gonzalez can agree with that.

*NHL cancels rest of preseason: You knew it was coming. I think they return to work by the time we get to the Winter Classic -- if they were smart, they would make that opening day and have every team participating (not in the open-air stadium, but all wearing throwbacks and playing games).

*NBA to crack down on flopping: Frankly, I'd rather see them crack down on superstar griping about missed calls -- a fine for every faux-shocked face or squeal of indignation. But, yes, flopping is a problem, too. (Fines probably aren't enough -- what if you're nicked 5 times for flopping, you're suspended for a half of a game?)

*Jobs: Manny Acta is out in Cleveland, and if Terry Francona really is a candidate, that would be a great hire. He won't turn them into contenders, but he's an upgrade.

Enjoy your weekend. Updates on Sat and Sun a.m.

-- D.S.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

9/27 (Real Refs Return) Quickie

In the end, the NFL blinked. It doesn't matter if they were already headed toward a resolution with the refs -- done in a few days or a few weeks. The perception is that they buckled in the wake of Monday night.

And perception is what was at the heart of yesterday's end-game: In the unlikeliest scenario, the NFL couldn't deal with the post-"Fail Mary" perception that the game's integrity was eroding/eroded. And so the league made the best of a bad situation it found itself in -- they cut a deal with the refs, probably not as hard-line as they would have wanted, but still hard-line enough. Meanwhile, they cut bait on a replacement-ref situation spinning entirely out of control.

There was a pretty good argument to be made that the NFL couldn't afford to go another week with the fake refs -- the dominant image of Week 4 would have been the persistent jeering within stadiums every time a ref made a call. There is a good case to be made that THAT would have been even worse for the league than the single epically bad call on Monday night -- from one really bad "worst-case" situation to a cascade of nationwide credibility issues that put the entire brand at risk.

NFL owners might be stubborn, but they are not stupid. They weighed the business risk -- and, let's be clear: that's all they weigh -- and realized it was time to get out of this hole now.

As many have already pointed out, the good feelings for the "real" refs will last right up until the first iffy call. And, if history is any guide, there will be plenty. But the state of the NFL is far better today than Tuesday morning.


Tigers lead AL Central again: If you like your postseasons interesting, Detroit is a more interesting team than Chicago -- more likely to dent New York and Texas (and Baltimore?) pitching, more likely to offer intriguing stars like Miguel Cabrera and his near-Triple-Crown season. (That said, I'm not averse to a one-game playoff to decide the AL Central winner.)

The A's are hanging around. Joe Sheehan had a really interesting point in his awesome subscription newsletter yesterday that there is a case to be made that a team like the A's is better off manipulating the new postseason system by optimizing their result in a one-game Wild Card at home, rather than trying to win the division, and -- in the process -- having to play a tie-breaker to win the division, losing that, then having to play a one-game Wild Card, then (even if they win that) having to start an LDS series against a fresh opponent.

The best story in baseball over the season's final week will be the Marlins bringing back Adam Greenberg -- a latter-day Moonlight Graham -- for his 2nd-ever MLB at-bat next Tuesday. His first, of course, ended with the end of his career.

Another Penn State player leaves: The guys who took off before the season started, just after the punishment was handed down, were never going to be as fascinating as the ones who -- NCAA transfer deal still on the table -- leave mid-season when they either chafe at Bill O'Brien's style or just don't like where the program is (or is headed). Remember: Players can leave without NCAA consequence all the way through the start of NEXT season, with immediately eligibility.

Jobs: Smart hire by the Astros to hire Nats 3B coach Bo Porter -- it's hard to know whether the team's success is because of savvy dealmaking, a stocked farm system over the past few years, lucking into Harper and Strasburg, Davey Johnson's managerial style or what. But picking up a hot assistant is a tried-and-true method in sports hiring.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

9/25 (NFL Refmageddon) Quickie

"One of the great disgraces in NFL history." That's not me. That's not "instant history" hysterics. That is SI's Peter King, dean of NFL writers, succinctly capturing last night's Packers-Seahawks ending that can only be described as the NFL's "Refmageddon" -- just about the worst-case scenario that could have been imagined.

For a quick look at the very best takes on it -- updated throughout the day -- check out Quickish.

It WAS a disgrace. And it did set the (sports) internet on fire. And it does crystallize the entire "replacement refs" situation in the NFL. And it is a massive humiliation for Roger Goodell.

But probably the only question that really matters: Will it change anything?

Will Goodell fold? And what happens when he doesn't and even more fans tune in for next week's games? What happens when he doesn't and the media -- enraged to be reminded that they have no real power -- doubles down on its outrage? What happens when he doesn't and the players all but revolt next week? What happens when he doesn't and nothing happens next week, because it can't possibly get worse than it is this morning?

But what happens if Goodell does fold? I think the Commissioner is way more attuned to that than you might think -- part of a hard-line negotiating stance (one that I don't support, btw) is that you can't fold, even if you hit a worst-case scenario. Folding now sets up Goodell and the NFL owners as a group that will buckle under the toughest pressure for the next labor dispute. Don't think he doesn't understand that.

Goodell should fold. But will he? And what if he doesn't?

Those are the dynamics I'm paying attention to today.

-- D.S.

Monday, September 24, 2012

9/24 (NFL Week 3 Hangover) Quickie

Yes, the replacement refs are not doing a great job and there is no real reason the NFL should let this go on, but I'm with Yahoo's Dan Wetzel that the players' gripes are a bigger spectacle.

Other big storylines from yesterday that I found fascinating:

*Torrey Smith's grief: It is unfathomable that Smith lost his brother earlier in the day, then came to the stadium and put together a brilliant performance that led the Ravens over the hated Pats.

*Saints are 0-3: Including 0-2 at home! Part of it is surely the distractions from the offseason. Part of it is surely missing head coach Sean Payton. But maybe part of it is that they're just not that good.

*Cardinals are 3-0: OK, OK -- we believe. (No, no: We still don't. Come on. Seriously? At least we can all agree that the Eagles were a house of cards.)

*49ers lose to the Vikings: This week's "Just When You Thought You Understood the NFL, You Really Don't" moment, as clear as they come.

*Runner-up: The Titans beating the Lions in a shootout. Jake Locker is the new Matt Stafford?

*And the best team in the NFL after 3 weeks is...: The Falcons?

More to lead off the week:

CFB: The big storyline will be "FSU is back!" but... the weekend's real takeaway is that no one is stopping Oregon and that an Alabama-Oregon national-title match-up feels like a foregone conclusion. (But, without question, a strong -- even dominant -- FSU is good for college football, if bad for my Gators.)

MLB State of the Wild Card Races: Baltimore and Oakland in command of the AL Wild Card, but with 9 or 10 games to play, the Angels don't seem ready to concede. In the NL, the Brewers (2.5 GB) look like they want to make it interesting (but it'll take a collapse by a Braves or Cards).

Golf: Back in February, anyone have Brendt Snedeker as FedEx Cup winner? Anyone?

-- D.S.

This Week's BlogPoll Top 25 Ballot

Alabama stays at No. 1, with Kansas State jumping up to "No. 2 For Now" on the strength of its "Best Win By Any Team This Season" win at Oklahoma.

Rounding out the "If The Season Ended Today And We Had a Playoff" is Florida State (technically its new full name is "Florida State is Back") and Oregon.

West Virginia drops out, mostly because no self-respecting contender should have as much trouble with Maryland as WVU did (at home, no less).

Presuming Kansas State stumbles in a wildly competitive Big 12, no change to the reigning expectation that unbeaten Oregon (and they will stay unbeaten) will edge an unbeaten FSU (and they will stay unbeaten) for the No. 2 spot in the national-title game -- and the chance to lose to Alabama.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

9/23 (CFB Hangover) Quickie

Ranking yesterday's signature wins:

(1) Kansas State, over (at) Oklahoma: Best win of the season by any team. Tough Big 12 schedule remaining, but for now, a "if the season ended now and we had a four-team playoff, they'd be in" team.

(2) Florida State, over Clemson: Jaw-dropping offense. Defense that makes you think that if they ran into a defense like Alabama's or LSU's or a superior offense like Oregon, they would fall short. Still: QB EJ Manuel had the single-best "big game" performance by any single player this season.

(3) Oregon, destroying Arizona: Slow start -- even eyebrow-raising -- turned into a 49-0 rout that has Oregon at the top of the pile of teams vying for "No. 2 behind Alabama" status.

(4) Notre Dame, edging Michigan: It wasn't pretty -- and Michigan clearly isn't anywhere nearly as good as people were thinking they were a month ago -- but Notre Dame needed a win like that over a perceived "good" team. The Irish offense is terrible, but the D is clearly solid.

(5) LSU, escaping Auburn: "Close wins" are hardly a crime -- the Tigers will drop in the polls because September is about style points. But watch them grind through October leading up to their early-November de facto national semifinal playoff game against Alabama. They'll hang in there.

Couple of notes:

*Best detail of the day: Oregon State's Mike Riley diverted his team's travel plans back from UCLA by stopping by In-and-Out Burger for a treat.

*The Big Ten's biggest problem is not that Iowa lost to Central Michigan, which is as big of a symbol of the Big Ten being "down" this season as anything. No, the Big Ten's biggest problem is that its purportedly "best" team -- Ohio State, bowl-eligible or not -- just ain't that good.

*Anyone else surprised at how much trouble West Virginia had with lowly Maryland, especially in Morgantown? The Big 12 is fascinating: Kansas State has the signature win, West Virginia has the glitz (and favorable schedule), Oklahoma is a step behind, Texas is who-knows-what... and TCU is probably going to turn out to be the best team in the league.

*Missouri's loss to Georgia in its SEC opener two weeks ago isn't nearly as representative as the way they got throttled on the road at South Carolina yesterday. Gonna be a rough ride.

*Northwestern: 4-0 and, in a down year for the Big Ten, every reason to think they can finish near the top of the league.

Enjoy your NFL Sunday, particularly you folks in NYC who will get your first-ever taste of NFL Red Zone Channel today.

-- D.S.