Saturday, December 01, 2012

12/01 (CFB Saturday Finale) Quickie

*Alabama in a rout.

*Wisconsin over Nebraska, to face Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

*But let's credit UCLA, which rope-a-doped Stanford over match-ups on consecutive weekends and nearly pulled off the upset.

*I sincerely hope that Coaches and Harris Poll voters put Northern Illinois far enough into the Top 16 to get them eligible for a BCS bowl (something Kent State was all but assured had they won last night).

We'll see how many Big 12 coaches who vote in the Coaches' Poll will tank Northern Illinois in order to try to help ensure Oklahoma gets that at-large BCS spot -- and the money for the conference members that comes with it. I'm betting it will be conspicuous.

*Speaking of Big 12, I think K-State rebounds and KO's Texas.

*Stern fines Spurs $250K: Wow, did this story end up capturing a wide audience, both in and out of sports. Maybe that's because what Popovich did was so reasonable and the NBA's reaction so draconian-seeming. I'm Team Pop all the way -- he made a decision in the best interests of his team trying to win a championship, which is in the best interests of the team's fans. (That the Spurs' motley crew of back-ups nearly toppled the full-strength Heat was only a delightful bonus.)

*Reiterating a point from earlier this week, it is a joke if Bonds and Clemens are not elected to the Hall of Fame -- the writers who have self-appointed themselves to "protect" the Hall are doing more to erode its credibility than anything the players themselves might have done.

Enjoy the final real Saturday of college football this season.

-- D.S.

Friday, November 30, 2012

11/30 (Friday) Quickie

*Can't seem to find anyone particularly enthusiastic about the Falcons as a legit Super Bowl contender, which will either lead to post-hoc "Told you so!" or "Should've known!"

*Losing to Notre Dame doesn't diminish my preseason enthusiasm for Kentucky to repeat. ND was as motivated as they will be this season, and Kentucky is still figuring things out. (FWIW, absolutely hated the "black-out" jerseys, but absolutely loved Manti Te'o in the student section.)

*However! What might diminish my preseason enthusiasm for Kentucky to repeat was watching Florida destroy Marquette last night. I'm as self-critical about the Gators as any hater, but last night displayed why Florida should be on the short list of teams with a legit chance not just to make a Final Four, but to win six straight and take a national title: When Patric Young is on, giving the Gators as bullying of a post presence as exists in college hoops, it activates everything else that is great about this team: The stretch-4 (Murphy), the do-the-little-things swingman (Yeguete), the experienced and shot-jacking backcourt (Boynton and Rosario), the heady PG (Wilbeken) and yet another dangerous 3-point shooter (frosh Frazier). This is a very very good team.

*Louisville wins Big East BCS bowl bid: Hard not to love Teddy Bridgewater. And there isn't a hotter head-coaching commodity than Charlie Strong, who would be best-served to skip the mediocre jobs open this winter and wait for next year, pairing with Bridgewater for a run at unbeaten in '13.

*Must-see game of the night: Kent State vs. Northern Illinois, with the winner potentially (likely?) earning a BCS bowl bid, which would be amazing. MACtion!

*Spurs sit 4 starters: I have absolutely no problem with Gregg Popovich giving Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green a rest at the end of a tough road trip ending in Miami. (Sending them home? Kind of a dick move, but certainly reasonable under the circumstances -- it is self-defeating to "rest" them but have them sit on the bench. I like that he doesn't care what anyone thinks.) What made it all the more awesome was that the short-handed Spurs nearly beat the full-strength Heat -- the game was way more interesting under the Pop-changed circumstances than if everyone played.

*MLB Hot Stove: The Mets are keeping franchise player David Wright for the long-term. He has been and remains the face of the franchise in the post-Piazza era of mediocrity. He will eventually have his number retired by the team -- but is going to have a ton of trouble leading the troubled team to success in the standings.

*More: Nats trade for Denard Span. Near-universal approval for this move -- the kind of thing a contender does to get stronger. Span is great defensively and gets on base effectively, making him a solid lead-off option. The Nats had been looking for a CF for more than a year, and they got a solid option at a reasonable price and without log-jamming the position for up-and-coming prospect Brian Goodwin. This is potentially the position-player equivalent of trading for Gio Gonzalez -- use the stockpile of prospects to help the team win now.

*NFL Week 13 Storylines I Like:
*Good luck to all battling for fantasy-playoff positioning!
Meanwhile, it's not too early for "real" playoff positioning:
*Must-win for Seahawks in Chicago?
*Must-win for the Bucs in Denver?
*Must-win for the Bengals in San Diego?
*Game of the Week: Wait til Monday -- Skins-Giants.

*CFB Saturday -- the final weekend of the season, which is depressing to think about. At least we've got a national semifinal -- Alabama-Georgia winner goes to the BCS title game. The pick is Alabama, in a rout. (There are other BCS bowl bids on the line: Nebraska-Wisconsin for the Big Ten side of the Rose Bowl. I keep thinking I should take Nebraska, but Wisconsin always seems to win these games. Also: Is anyone outside of FSU not excited about the idea of 7-6 Georgia Tech representing the ACC in the Orange Bowl? Imagine Georgia Tech vs. Kent State in the Orange Bowl. Wow.

Enjoy the college football. Enjoy the NFL weekend. More on both weekend mornings.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

11/29 (Thursday) Quickie

NFL vs. Adderall: Like "greenies" two generations ago, let's try to calculate how many pro athletes use/abuse Adderall: 33%? 50%? 75% More? I would always err on the side of "more."

Duke hoops rolls on: I'll admit I was a preseason doubter, but they have the best resume of any team in the country right now.

NFL tonight: Saints-Falcons, which is probably the best Thursday night NFL game you'll get this year. The Saints are in must-win mode if they want even a remote shot at the playoffs; the Falcons need to win to maintain their grip on home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

NBA: I don't think anyone expected James Harden to win in his OKC homecoming, but that's not the point. The point is that he is thriving as an alpha in Houston and Durant, Westbrook and Co. seem to be doing just fine without him. Good for everyone.

New Rivalry: Celtics-Nets? Kind of love that. And love that the Nets aren't taking guff from anyone, least of all the wannabe-bullies from Boston.

CFB Jobs: The day after rumors leak of a huge Auburn offer to Les Miles, he gets a huge extension from LSU. Well played, Mad Hatter.

College football's game of the week? Bama-Georgia for a spot on the national title game, yes, but don't sleep on Kent State vs. Northern Illinois, where the winner could/should end up in a BCS bowl game.

MLB Hot Stove: Did the Braves overpay for BJ Upton? Probably. But he is a second-tier (potentially top-tier) talent in CF and makes Atlanta's lineup better. They needed to overpay, because when they look at the Nationals above them in the NL East standings, they know they have to upgrade offensively.

Wizards win! (Wizards win?!) Wizards win!

-- D.S.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

11/28 (Wednesday) Quickie

If I had a Baseball Hall of Fame vote...
Barry Bonds? In. Roger Clemens? In. Sammy Sosa? In.

The more likely scenario? Renegade voters punishing each on their first time on the ballot by withholding support -- for now, maybe forever.*

* - "Forever" defined as "Until enough voters qualify to override the old-school sensibility."

The Baseball Hall's biggest problem isn't letting in would-be cheaters -- there are plenty of those already in the Hall (particularly if you think use of now-banned amphetamines, a staple of baseball from its origins until the moment they were banned a few years ago, should qualify).

The Baseball Hall's biggest problem is that the BBWAA voters responsible for the shrine -- the fans' shrine -- have taken personal moralizing to an absurd place.

Barry Bonds is one of the five greatest hitters in MLB history.
Roger Clemens is one of the five greatest pitchers in MLB history.

It erodes the Hall more to conspicuously not include them than it does to include them with notations on their plaques about the PED controversy that ended up defining their stellar careers.


PED, cont'd: Adderall is the new greenie. Is it so hard to find a doctor to give you a prescription for your "ADD?" That's what most of the league (NFL and MLB) does.

College Hoops: Indiana re-affirms their bonafides by crushing UNC, a team that has spent November proving that preseason hype is meaningless. Meanwhile, I'm intrigued by Michigan -- I'm typically down on Big Ten teams (with a possible exception of Michigan State in March), but they are fiesty. Can't wait for those Indiana-Michigan games later this season.

Conference realignment: ACC adding Louisville. The Cardinals would instantly become the second-best (best?) football team in the league and the second-best basketball team (consider Rick Pitino vs. Coach K at least twice a year). It's a solid add for the ACC -- and another tough loss for the Big East.

NBA: Kobe 40. As he has aged, Kobe has become one of my favorite players. His 40 last night (while battling a cold) was classic Bryant... but I can still enjoy the schadenfreude of the Laker-hater watching them lose to the Pacers at the buzzer.

NFL: Jason Babin will be an integral part -- possibly postseason MVP -- of whichever contender picks him up. Consider that a prediction.

Heisman: Yes, I'd vote for Te'o. No, I'm not happy that I'm with Skip Bayless on this one.

CFB Jobs: Just because Auburn offers Les Miles a job doesn't mean he will take it. I would be shocked if he left an incredible gig at LSU for an iffy one elsewhere in the SEC West.

Meanwhile, Bill O'Brien is staying at Penn State: Let's add the obligatory "...for now." I'll take the under on him fulfilling the duration of his contract -- at some point, he'll do well enough that an NFL team will come calling and he will leave the rebuilding at PSU to someone else. (To his credit, he did a pretty good job in Year 1.)

Suh vs. the NFL: Did he mean to kick Matt Schaub? The league says it's tough to know his "intent," and watching the video it might -- might -- have simply been an accident. Don't get me wrong: Suh clearly meant to kick Schaub somewhere -- it's just not clear he meant to go there. Based on his track record, Suh shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt.

RIP Marvin Miller: One of the Top 10 (Top 5?) most influential people in sports over the past century. Let me join everyone else: That he never made the Baseball Hall of Fame is a stain on the Hall's legacy that will never be fixed, even if they let him in posthumously. Where was the BBWAA morality police on that? Miller enjoyed a meaningful life -- not much more you can ask for.

And also a sad RIP to ESPN's John Zehr, a fixture among the company's digital leadership for a long time and one of the architects of ESPN's digital strategies, particularly mobile. He was also a great person and someone beloved by his colleagues. Condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

11/27 (Newtonian Physics) Quickie

Now THAT is the Cam Newton we all thought we'd see this season.

Nevermind that it came at the expense of the hapless Eagles -- Andy Reid is as lame-duck as it gets -- but it was a reminder of what made him captivate us in the first place.

Meanwhile, two words: Bryce Brown. Really: Who needs to play college football in a meaningful way?

Nets top Knicks: Let's be honest -- the whole "Brooklyn" thing has worked out pretty well so far. And if cachet mattered -- and in New York City, it most certainly does -- the Nets have the edge, all the more remarkable because the Knicks are having a terrific season so far.

 More NBA: My 6-year-old son's favorite NBA player is Russell Westbrook -- he'll be mimicking that Westbrook dunk and waddle from last night for the next few months.

Johnny Football speaks: I'm torn -- I love this kid, I love what he did with A&M's offense this year and I love the novelty of a redshirt freshman winning the Heisman (although he's the same year in college as Tim Tebow when he won the Heisman as a "true" sophomore in his first year of starting).

But if I had a vote, I would give it to Manti Te'o, the exceptional Notre Dame linebacker. If ND's resurgence has been the story of the season -- and the D has been the story of ND's resurgence -- then Te'o is the face of it.

Let's be honest: Manziel has a lock on the Heisman next season (if "lock" is the same way we felt about Andrew Luck's "Heisman lock" in 2011 and Matt Barkley's "Heisman lock" in 2012.)

MLB Hot Stove: Rays lock up Evan Longoria. He took a bit of a haircut; the team took a bit of a risk. In the end, it's a smart move for both sides, and Longoria should anchor the Rays as an AL playoff contender for a decade. He will go into the Hall of Fame in a Rays cap.

-- D.S.

Monday, November 26, 2012

11/26 (Monday) Quickie

Coming out of the weekend, there are two divergent takes on the dominant topic:

Notre Dame? Ugh.
Notre Dame? Nice!

I would say there is a third way, otherwise known as "How I Learned To Stop Resenting Notre Dame And Begrudgingly Embrace Their Spot In The National Title Game."

Naturally, the rationalization came by way of my native feeling of SEC exceptionalism. In the end, this ND team is built like a great SEC team -- exceptionally stingy D, punishing run-based offense.

Do I think that Notre Dame will lose to Alabama (or, I suppose, Georgia)? Yes, absolutely. This isn't 2002 Ohio State against 2002 Miami, although that is probably the right comp if you like ND.

And yet: Do I think that the team acquits itself well among the recent wannabes who turn out to fold in the face of SEC reality? Yes, absolutely. This isn't Ohio State '06 or Oklahoma '08 or Texas '09.

Let's go back to college football's most fundamental piece of exceptionalism: The sport is better with a nationally competitive Notre Dame.

More power to 'em.


*NFL Team of the Week: NY Giants, who reminded us that they are every bit the Super Bowl contender they were last year -- maybe even more so this year.

(Meanwhile: At some point, the close calls will catch up to Atlanta, and here's betting it happens in the playoffs.)

*NFL Player of the Week: Colin Kaepernick. Is it Kap? Is it Harbaugh's system? Is it simply that ridiculous 49ers D? Who cares -- love this story and love the energy of the soph QB.

*NFL Tonight: Panthers-Eagles. In a lost season for Carolina (and a VERY lost season for Philly), is it too much to ask for Cam Newton to put on a show on national TV?

*NFL Would-Be Controversy: Peyton's head. That the Broncos' (and NFL's?) concussion "test" works right up until it impacts a big star like Peyton Manning, who shrugged it off -- and kept playing.

*CFB, Cont'd: The best story in the sport is that Kent State is on the verge of stealing a BCS bowl slot for the non-BCS leagues, both because KSU is a win over Northern Illinois (itself no slouch) from cracking the Top 16 and because the Big East and ACC are a shambles. And you wonder why the momentum is toward four super-conferences....  (Still: Kent State. Amazing.)

*NBA: Knicks-Nets in their long-awaited Battle for New York. The Knicks are playing well. The Nets are playing better than expected (and quite well in their new home). The game means nothing, and yet -- in a fashion worthy of the city -- it apparently means everything.

*College Hoops: Cal Poly beats UCLA, and that is about as good as it gets for mid-major fans (and people who enjoy UCLA schadenfreude). Hard to believe that a team with the Bruins' talent can't get it together.

*Jobs: Chizik out at Auburn, leading a bevy of open jobs including Arkansas, Tennessee, Colorado, Cal, NC State, Boston College -- hell, even Kentucky is a halfway-decent gig. And that doesn't even consider Oregon if Chip Kelly goes to the NFL. Or the carousel effect if/when Charlie Strong leaves Louisville. You're picking your landing spot if you're Sonny Dykes at Louisiana Tech. Or Alabama assistant Kirby Smart. Feels like there aren't enough good coaches to fill the good spots.

*Fireman Ed quits: Meh. What kind of super-fan bails on a team during its nadir? I appreciate that he is getting into problems with some jerky fans and he just doesn't think it's worth it anymore. But stick it out -- or at least pass it on to an heir.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

11/25 (Notre Dame) Quickie

Here is the reality: Back in August, if you told me that Florida would finish the season playing in the Sugar Bowl with the chance to finish No. 2 in the country, I would have gladly accepted the terms.

Here is more reality: College football is infinitely better with a nationally competitive Notre Dame.

Here is even more reality: Notre Dame SEEMS good, but it is hard to tell -- their schedule is better than the haters like to admit but not nearly as good as its fans like to think.

Here is one more reality: Under the parameters of the current system, it is entirely fair that Notre Dame plays for the national title (even at the expense of my Gators, with an arguably better resume).

Here is one final reality: Folks like to say that Notre Dame is constructed like a championship SEC team -- we will see just how far that facsimile is from reality on January 7 in Miami.

I think the best five teams in the country are -- in some order or another -- Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M.

I think the default of putting the unbeaten team at No. 1 is kind of absurd, although the SEC has gotten pretty good at exposing that every January.

I don't think ND is better than any of the four SEC teams I listed above. But they have earned the chance to test that thesis against the most reasonable thing we have to a "best of the SEC."

(For what it's worth, I think Ohio State is the worst example of "But if they're unbeaten, they HAVE to be good!" This is a team that probably couldn't beat any team in the Top 10, let alone Top 2.)

For this week's ranking, I'm going to go with (1) Texas A&M, (2) Alabama, (3) Florida, (4) Georgia, (5) Notre Dame, (6) Stanford, (7) Oregon, (8) South Carolina, (9) Kansas State, (10) Ohio State.

Here's where it gets awkward: A&M is playing better than anyone right now, with the single-best win of the season. But Florida beat A&M head-to-head (at A&M!) and has the best resume of big wins in the country. But Alabama just seems better than Florida, and Georgia beat Florida head-to-head (if carrying very little margin for error). ND is unbeaten but built on a bunch of mediocre "bowl-eligible" teams (except for Stanford, in a game that ND coulda/shoulda/woulda lost).

In the end, Notre Dame gets its shot. Alabama and Georgia get their shot. A&M had its shot and couldn't take down either Florida or LSU -- it only would have taken one. Florida had its shot and couldn't take down Georgia (and needed to rely on flaky Lane Kiffin to fix things).

If Notre Dame can beat the SEC's best, they will have truly earned the title. If they fall short, it's nothing that seemingly strong teams for the past 6 seasons haven't equally failed to do.

In the end, the season may included a 7th straight SEC national title, but the season revolved/revolves around the revival of Notre Dame.

You can feel begrudgingly about it, but you must still acknowledge it.

-- D.S.