Saturday, November 10, 2012

11/11 (Johnny Football) Quickie

You know a player is electrifying when it is obvious to a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old. That was Johnny Manziel -- "Johnny Football" -- with my kids on Saturday afternoon.

I have absolutely no problem installing Manziel as the Heisman front-runner ahead of K-State's Klein (even if he leads the team to an undefeated season) or Oregon's Barber or Notre Dame's Te'o.

That was the most impressive win I have seen since Cam Newton's Auburn came back from being down a ton to beat Alabama two years ago.

Newton was also a first-year starter (and one-year wonder), but the insane part is that Manziel still has next year, and even after he becomes NFL-eligible, two years of college after that if he wants.

If Texas A&M can head into Tuscaloosa and beat No. 1 Alabama in the Aggies' first year in the SEC, imagine what happens after Kevin Sumlin finishes a few recruiting cycles.

Anyway, I said this on Twitter last night and I believe it: I have no problem reserving one of the two BCS title-game slots for an SEC team, and I have no problem giving that slot to the 2-loss runner-up of the SEC West.

No team has had a better win this season -- and it's not even close (the top contender up until today was probably K-State winning at Oklahoma).

No team has a better star player. No team has a more impressive balance of slick offense and stout defense.

And it is hard to find a team that has played a tougher schedule. (Which is why I'll overlook the two losses -- if Oregon or K-State or ND played A&M's schedule, they would have more than two losses.)

This was the signature moment of the college football season -- the defending champ knocked out by the spunky up-and-comer. It is why college football is the best.


As for the situation with the BCS, it's pretty simple: If Kansas State and Oregon win out, they will meet for the national title, no matter what Notre Dame does.

If either K-State or Oregon lose -- unlikely, but stranger things have happened (and fairly frequently at that) -- ND moves into the slot provided it doesn't lose, either.

If two of the three lose a game, 1-loss Alabama moves back into the title game, provided it doesn't lose again -- it won't -- and it will steamroll that non-SEC team.

I am inclined to give the SEC champ the benefit of the doubt -- just because a team is undefeated shouldn't automatically mean it is better than a 1-loss team.

That said: It's hard to watch Alabama the past two weeks and not think that both Kansas State and Oregon would give them at least as tough of a game as A&M.

Then again, that is the same kind of logic that ends up getting debunked every...single...year... in the BCS title game.


*Florida didn't deserve to win that game. They deserved to get humiliated by Louisiana-Lafayette, who -- for their part -- deserved to have that "once in a lifetime" moment for a program on the fringes.

THAT SAID: Holy smokes. They came through when it mattered. With that last minute drive and then one of the most improbable plays I have ever seen -- what was essentially a walk-off blocked-punt TD. After 58 minutes of hating this game plus the Northwestern debacle ending -- see below -- it was a day-maker. Luchiez Purifoy, I will never mock you again for wearing the sanctified No. 15 jersey.

*The Northwestern loss to Michigan -- and, make no mistake, it was a Northwestern loss, not a Michigan win -- was the most disheartening of my 20 years of being a fan.

This team is three chokes from being 10-0, and that's not just "oh, if some crazy combination of things happened, we would have won." That's "the game was won, the team couldn't execute down the stretch... again."

It is baffling. It is maddening. And it should be intolerable to any fan of a program that takes itself remotely seriously.

I cannot for the life of me understand why Pat Fitzgerald is such a brutal in-game tactician when things get to the fourth quarter. I cannot understand why he can't produce a competent defense (or employ a competent defensive coordinator).

But a 7- or 8-win season when a 9- or 10- (or 11-) win season -- a spot in the first Big Ten title game was there for the taking -- was absolutely attainable is unacceptable.

I'm going to make myself feel better by watching highlights of Johnny Football.

-- D.S.

Friday, November 09, 2012

11/09 (College Hoops Tip-Off) Quickie

The new college hoops season tips off today, and the universe revolves around John Calipari and Kentucky.

Not just because Cal broke through with his first national title a year ago. Not just because he reloaded with an insanely talented freshman class. Not just because the expectations are, once again, "National title or failure."

But because Calipari has created the most entrepreneurial system in all of sports. From sales and marketing to business development to product development, he has out-innovated everyone else.

The core? Embracing the NBA's age limit and offering the top high school players the ideal one-year finishing school before they enter the NBA: Get coached for the pros, compete for a national title, be on TV a ton and raise your personal and professional profile.

What top prep WOULDN'T want that, and -- as it turns out -- they mostly all do. And after last year's perfect execution of the plan, it appears locked in for as long as the NBA keeps an age limit.

Another team might win the national title -- Indiana is the popular favorite, but I don't see it -- but Calipari has guaranteed that Kentucky is always at the top of the list of contenders.

National title pick: Kentucky
Final Four: Kentucky, Louisville, Florida, Gonzaga
Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton
A-As: McDermott, Cody Zeller, Isaiah Canaan, Tony Mitchell, Nerlens Noel
Does Northwestern make the NCAA Tournament: No.


Colts win again: More love for Luck.
Kobe's glare: I'm with Kobe. Get over it, friends.
MLB Hot Stove: Rangers' limit with Hamilton is 3 years? That ends that.
CFB Weekend: Kansas State will lose at TCU. (That's big enough.)
Syracuse's Fine: How the hell does that guy get his rep back?
Lane Kiffin: Still bringing the LOL. Yeah, the manager totally acted alone.

College hoops opens its season on an aircraft carrier tonight AND in Brooklyn. What more do you want?

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

11/08 (Tillman) Quickie

OK, so it sounds like the Charles Tillman thing is a moot point, because he said this morning that his wife is now scheduled to give birth Monday, not during the Bears game on Sunday. But still, the point is worth making...

"Faith, family, football." That isn't necessarily an original thought, but it is one of the core tenets of Tim Tebow's worldview -- his priorities. Charles Tillman said the same thing in a tweet to ESPN's Mike Greenberg and Golic this morning.

Tillman is right and PFT's Mike Florio is wrong -- if the timing happens to work out coincidentally, it is more important for Tillman to be at the birth of his child than it is for him to be playing in the Bears game. Full stop.

Here's to an easy birth for his wife, for a healthy baby and for Tillman to experience nothing but joy (a previous birth was incredibly difficult and complicated). The highlight of 2012 for me was the birth of my daughter and being there to support my wife.

You just can't take these things for granted and you absolutely support whatever Tillman's decision is.


Chuckstrong: Love that the Colts players shaved their heads in support of head coach Chuck Pagano, and love that Indy is playing tonight on national TV to raise the profile even more. You've got to tune in, if only to watch Andrew Luck, coming off the biggest passing day for a rookie in NFL history.

Lakers are 1-4: How many games before the sample size is big enough where we say "This team just isn't particularly good?"

Jim Buss gives Mike Brown the dreaded vote of confidence: 'Nuff said.

Clippers beat the Spurs: To the point above, the best team in L.A. is the other one.

Heat obliterate the Nets: Brooklyn has a lot of cachet, but it isn't even close to being a contender.

Rockies hire Walt Weiss: If you remember Weiss as AL Rookie of the Year... well, you're old. Sigh.

Mike Vick to brother Marcus: "Shut off the Twitter." Older brothers FTW.

MLB Hot Stove: I think the trade market for Justin Upton is way more intriguing than the situation with Josh Hamilton. Nats GM drafted Upton and is sitting on a stockpile of minor-league talent. Is it too much to think he might make a play for him?

RIP Darrell Royal: If you were going to pick out 10 college football coaches who are the face of the sport's history, Royal is on the list. (Hmm, off the top of my head, in no particular order: Bryant, Saban, Rockne, Switzer, Royal, Osborne, Spurrier, Meyer, Schnellenberger, Heisman.)

CFB: Should Kentucky consider hiring Bobby Petrino? My original thought was "Hell no." Now, I actually think "Absolutely." This is a program going nowhere. Petrino is a mess of a human being, but there is no denying he is a good football coach.

CBB: Xavier transfer Dez Wells eligible for Maryland. Makes the Kentucky-Maryland season-opener tomorrow night in Brooklyn that much more interesting.

More CBB: Season tips off tomorrow. Much more tomorrow, but I'll offer a spoiler: Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

11/07 (Two-Term Obama) Quickie

Today isn't a post about President Obama winning re-election, but instead about the sports-media guy turned politcal-media guy Nate Silver of

Silver became the poster guy for political punditry this season with his confident (and quantitatively backed-up) predictions about the Presidential race, capped by last night, where he basically ran the table. (Not coincidentally, the Obama re-election team took the same approach, with the same results.

Silver took a lot of grief from the more traditional political pundit class -- it was amusing to watch as a sports fan, because this was a debate we had in sports a decade ago (stats vs. scouts, later morphing into sports pundits who were comfortable and facile with numbers versus those who weren't).

In the end, Silver won the day, because rigorous quantitative analysis matters. In sports or in politics, there will always be a place for qualitative punditry -- the 24/7 news cycle demands it -- but it must be rooted in data (and, yes, sometimes counter-balanced or checked by it, too).

I don't expect that things will change in the pundit world too dramatically, even as Silver and his data-first approach ascends to pre-eminence. There was too much ignorance of basic statistics -- basic understanding of probabilistic thinking -- during the past few weeks' Silver-centric flare-up from critics.

But it is a great reminder -- something to hold up and even admire -- that just because you insist on a reality doesn't make it so. Math matters.

Last night in the wake of Obama's victory, NBC News' Chuck Todd called the election the political equivalent of a "Moneyball"-style triumph. The same can be said for Silver.

Of the lasting impacts of this election season, I hope that this kind of clear-eyed quant-aware approach to analysis -- in politics, finally catching up to sports -- earns a place.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

11/06 (Election Day) Quickie

Took my kids to vote this morning, just like I took them to vote four years ago. It is a thrilling moment to explain the basic foundation of democracy to a curious child and watch them soak in the community and the spectacle of it.

We stood in line for no more than a half-hour, which is nothing compared to what others will go through today to cast a ballot. It is an embarrassment that we don't have a system that makes voting simple, easy, fast and universally accessible to any eligible citizen.

That is the extent of any "political" statement I have to make -- if you know (or think you know) whom I voted for, ok -- whether you agree or disagree is part of the process; otherwise, I merely hope you exercise your right to vote for the candidates of your choice, along with any ballot measures that might impact you more locally.


*Andy Reid is as good as fired, but it might not come until the end of the season. It will be an awkward lame-duck phase, but he sort of brings it on himself by, say, sticking with Michael Vick.

*That play where Riley Cooper laid down in the end zone on the kickoff -- hiding in plain sight -- before catching a lateral (later ruled an illegal forward pass) and racing for a TD was one of the best plays you'll see all season -- straight out of your backyard game. Brilliant.

*Nothing says "false hope" like the Knicks being 3-0 with all three wins by double-digit margins.

*Basically, the Heat just turn it on when they want to. And when they do, they're unstoppable.

*Did Nets fans really think the team in Brooklyn would just start winning like a contender?

*I only saw a few highlights of last night's Kentucky exhibition, but they sure look reloaded.

*I would take it as a point of pride if I was given the first two official NBA "warnings" about flopping. Kudos to you, JJ Barea.

*David Ortiz didn't like Bobby V? You don't say!

*Obama is right: Political pundits ARE just like sports pundits.


-- D.S.

Monday, November 05, 2012

11/05 (NFL Midseason) Quickie

Hard to imagine a year ago that the midway point of the 2012 NFL season would be defined by the Indianapolis Colts. But it is:

-- Chuck Pagano's leave-of-absence while battling leukemia, leading to the most gripping moment of the season so far.

-- Andrew Luck fulfilling his potential as the best NFL QB prospect since Peyton Manning by setting a new single-game record for passing yards by a rookie.

-- The Colts -- who are supposed to be (and have every right to be) in post-Peyton rebuilding mode -- being entirely in the mix for a Wild Card spot in the AFC.

At the midway point of the NFL season, they are the Team of the Year. More awards:

MVP: Matt Ryan
Rookie: Luck and Robert Griffin III
Coach: Lovie Smith

More NFL: Is there anything more symbolically appropriate than Jerry Jones being locked out of the Cowboys locker room after their loss to the Falcons?

If I am Jerry Jones: I am formulating a break-the-bank offer for the suddenly contract-free Sean Payton.

BCS: Oregon hops over Notre Dame. Oregon can't play defense. Then again, Notre Dame nearly lost to Pitt. Kansas State fans are probably sure the Wildcats can beat both anyway.

Lakers win! Imagine the hysteria if they lost to the lowly Pistons. Doesn't change the fact that this team is very far from being a contender (let alone the top contender) in the West.

Tonight: Eagles-Saints, in a must-win for both teams, making it a delightfully desperate situation to watch for those of us who don't care about either team.

Fantasy: When your team sucks -- as mine does, perennially -- you take the moments when they happen. For example, my 1-7 bottom-feeders were playing the 7-1 league-leaders this week. My hearty band throttled them (and that was with Andrew Luck on my bench, sitting behind Cam Newton, who I just can't bring to sit), and my playoff-less season is made.

Don't forget to vote.

- D.S.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

11/04 (CFB Hangover) Quickie

There will be no Alabama-LSU II: The Sequel.

LSU has no shot at playing for the national title -- no embarrassments like last year's title-game rerun that made the regular-season "Game of the Year" a farce.

But Alabama -- hoo boy, Alabama -- affirms its place at the top of the polls. That was grown-up football last night in the 4th quarter, something the rest of the contenders around the country could barely (if at all) comprehend, except in circumstances like Oregon has had over the past two seasons in which they have experienced first-hand what elite SEC defenses look like.

The Oregon fireworks display in out-scoring USC was fun -- it felt as good as eating fistfuls of Halloween candy. There is no question: Oregon's offense is a thing to behold.

Then again, it was empty calories -- Chip Kelly has brought his high-octane offense to games with the best of the SEC, with time to prepare, and walked away solved and beaten.

I still want to see Alabama vs. Oregon for the national title -- this is Oregon's best offense, by far. And if they can scoot past Bama's defense of future pros, more power to them.

But it might just be the third straight season -- the sixth straight season, if you count BCS title-game wins by the rest of the SEC -- where the grown-ups show up to the kids' game, playing to win.


*Yup, Matt Barkley should have left school for the NFL a year ago. What you wonder is if the Redskins would have drafted Barkley or stuck with RGIII. Let's hope it is the latter.

*Still not convinced Kansas State couldn't neutralize Oregon -- but only if Collin Klein is entirely healthy. If he's not, K-State's unbeaten run could end next week.

*Congrats to Notre Dame fans on eking out a win that should have been a loss. Every title contender deserves one or two of those per season. That doesn't mean ND would survive vs. Oregon or Bama.

*Next week's biggest games: K-State at TCU -- Upset Special. A&M at Alabama -- no upset, but fun to watch Johnny Football against Alabama's D. (ND at BC? Meh. Only if ND loses.)

*BlogPoll Top 25 Preview: (1) Alabama, (2) Oregon, (3) Kansas State, (4) Notre Dame, (5) Georgia, with Texas A&M leap-frogging into my Top 10.

-- D.S.