Friday, December 07, 2012

12/07 (Very) Quickie

No college football slate tomorrow? No college football slate tomorrow. (Except! Army-Navy, which is always worth a watch, regardless of how the two teams are doing.)

Meanwhile, Manti Te'o cleaning up at the CFB Awards Show last night makes tomorrow night's Heisman ceremony all the more interesting. It had seemed like Manziel was a lock -- now, maybe a puncher's chance for the linebacker? Either way: Finishing Top 2 as a defensive player puts Te'o in rare company. (To repeat: Te'o would have gotten my vote.)

Knicks crush Heat (again): And, this time, without Carmelo. Look: The Heat lost to the Wizards this week, so something is clearly screwed up there for now. They have approximately five months to figure it out (and before wins and losses actually matter). For better or worse, they'll be fine. But don't let that get in the way of inflating the status of the Knicks or anything.

Tennessee football hires Cincy's Butch Jones: A solid hire, if not exactly spectacular. It's hard not to improve on the Derek Dooley era, plus Jones won't lack for resources. Grade this one a B+/A-.

NHL Lockout: That glimmer of hope that this could get resolved turned out to be the glint off the shiv that the league just stuck into the players' union.

Broncos win 8th straight: Qualifying for the playoffs? Winning the division? Meh. Peyton Manning has to lead this team farther than Tim Tebow did, which means AFC title game or bust.

NFL Week 14: Good luck to those of you in fantasy playoffs. Hope you're not relying on Ben Roethlisberger.

MLB Hot Stove: Kind of a dud week, wasn't it? What was the highlight -- the Nats signing Dan Haren? The Yankees giving a nominal offer to Kevin Youkilis? Here's to more action later this month.

NFL Brain-Injury Epidemic: Count me among those who love the idea floated via Roger Goodell in Time this week that the league eliminate kickoffs and instead go with a system where the team "kicking off" has the option of punting from their own 30 or "going for it" under 4th-and-15 conditions, with the upside of retaining possession if they convert (not unlike a fake punt) and the downside of giving the ball to the opponent at their own 30 if they fail to make it.

Sports x Parenting: I took the kids to the local high school boys' basketball season-opener. Gabe felt confident that his stomping during opponents' free throws made a difference and Jonah found a community with the student section during its "I! Believe! That! We! Will! Win!" chant. I think we're going to adopt that for the first-grade basketball league next month.

Enjoy your weekend.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

12/05 (Wizards!) Quickie

Confession: I have watched every Wizards game this season (sorry: this whole wretched season), most of the time insisting that Mrs. Quickie watch with me, which is an unreasonable demand in any marriage.

When the Wizards played the Heat last night, I had a conflicting event and had to miss watching the game. But no biggie: Guaranteed huge loss, right? Naturally, the Wizards shocked the Heat -- shocked all of NBA fandom, really -- and I missed it all.

I'm not complaining. I'll take the high-profile W and hope that the team understands what it takes to play at that kind of level every night, not just when playing the defending champs and motivated by the courtside presence of RGIII.


*Jets re-starting Mark Sanchez: Not clear they had a choice. (No, wait: They TOTALLY had a choice. At what point this season did Tim Tebow finally regret his decision to come to NY?)

*Arkansas hires Wisconsin's Bret Bielema: A stunner, in an age where we don't get many on the coaching front. It's an odd fit, but clearly Arkansas backed up the dump truck full of money. If Bielema didn't like Urban Meyer's recruiting tactics in the Big Ten, he's in for a rude reality now that he is in the conference.

*What next at Wisconsin? Former OC Paul Chryst -- who just finished his first year as HC at Pitt -- seems like a logical pick, but I would go outside the box and see if favorite son Darrell Bevell -- currently the O.C. for the Seahawks -- wants the gig.

*Auburn hires (back) Gus Malzahn: Excited to see Auburn's erstwhile offensive coordinator (for the Cam era) get to do whatever he wants at the SEC level.

*CBB: Georgetown thumps Texas: More indicative of UT sucking than G'town being great. But I'm starting to buy into this Hoyas team as one with a floor of the Sweet 16.

*Northwestern stuns Baylor in Waco: The team that lost to Illinois-Chicago at home last weekend beat the team that beat Kentucky in Lexington last weekend. So.

*New Orleans Pelicans: It's quirky and I don't hate it.

*Begets Charlotte Hornets? A welcome reversion.

*Wait, wait: Is the NHL lockout about to end? Here's hoping.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

12/04 (RGIII) Quickie

At this point, one thing is clear: RGIII is the biggest thing in the NFL. And, because he is the biggest thing in the biggest sport, that makes him the biggest thing in sports right now.

He played well -- not great, by any means (although it's not like the Giants' defense makes it easy on QBs), but that was sort of a theme this weekend: From Luck to Wilson to McElroy, the big QB stories in the NFL all played good enough (and certainly, for Luck and Wilson, brilliant in spots).

But the Redskins are suddenly in the playoff picture -- something that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. They are arguably even in the driver's seat in the NFC East.

RGIII's ability to turn reality from "No!" to "Yes!" is almost... Tebow-ish. And Griffin's popularity -- entirely justified -- is there to affirm it.


SI names LeBron the Sportsman of the Year: An entirely reasonable pick. (Although I'm working on USA TODAY Sports' Year in Review package, and I'm almost certain that our No. 1 athlete of the year will not be LeBron, although it's very possible LeBron will finish No. 2.)

Heisman finalists: Johnny Football, Te'o, Klein. And that's probably how they will finish, notwithstanding my own pick of Te'o for the award. What is a shame is that the Heisman Trust wouldn't extend invites to the players finishing 4th and 5th -- in the case of the Heisman, it IS an honor simply to make the trip to New York.

A-Rod's hip: I'm not sure I get the schadenfreude. For the Yankees, on the hook for $100M for a player who might have trouble even DH'ing? Sure. For A-Rod? I can't muster it.

CBB: Dropping Kentucky from No. 8 to unranked because they lost twice in a week? UK is having some acceleration problems, absolutely, but there are not 25 better teams in the country. (In the end, who cares: All that matters is how Kentucky finishes in late March. To the extent that last week portends falling short of the championship expectations? Yes, very relevant. To the extent that the team could still get it together in time for a six-game run in late March? This week's ranking is entirely irrelevant.)

Tebow being Tebow: Enough said.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 03, 2012

12/03 (Monday) Quickie

That was a tremendous afternoon of football, headlined by startlingly interesting QB play:

*Andrew Luck: Greatest season ever by a rookie QB? Isn't it insane to think that the only reason he wouldn't claim that title is because the other top rookie QB is having a slightly better season? (And that we are coming off of last year, when Cam Newton created a new standard for rookie QBs?)

*Charlie Batch: Coming off last week's debacle, Batch sobbing on the sidelines as the Steelers pulled out the win in Baltimore over the rival Ravens is my new favorite NFL image of the year so far.

*Greg McElroy:  If you thought the Sanchez-Tebow QB controversy was as absurd as it could get, think again. Mark Sanchez was finally benched, but Tim Tebow was unavailable, so they go to the third-stringer -- the articulate game-managing former college champ who has been a bemused non-factor all season long -- and he leads the offense to a TD that Sanchez couldnt'... and the team to a win. And now... what, exactly?

*Russell Wilson: Lost in the Luck-RGIII mania, Wilson is having an arguably more impressive season, given that Luck and RGIII were expected to be NFL stars from the get-go, where Wilson was a 3rd-stringer with potential, but certainly with no one expecting THIS. I am entirely comfortable with "Offensive Rookie of the Year" being a three-way tie between Luck, RGIII and Wilson.

Consider that spectrum of compelling QB storylines -- the No. 1 overall pick leading his team to the playoffs... the ageless back-up pulling off the gob-smacking win on the road... the former 7th-round pick and third-stringer stealing the show from the most popular player in the league... the third-wheel rookie QB pulling off the win of the day for his playoff contender against one of the league's elite teams.

How much more can you ask for?

Tragedy in KC: I appreciate why reporters are trying to show a little nuance in discussing Jovan Belcher, but the reality is that the guy is a murderer -- clearly mentally unstable, although that's not a mitigating factor -- and it is hard (if not impossible) to understand why we would treat him as anything but.

MNF: The must-see "Monday Night" game of the year? Very possibly -- it's RGII, the most must-see player in the NFL right now, against the defending champs, with the Redskins a win away from being very much in the Wild Card discussion (and a loss away from being pretty much out of it).

CFB Bowl lineup set: Alabama-Notre Dame will be the most-watched national-title game of the "media-fragmentation" era. The rest of the bowl lineup? Ehh...

The Fiesta (K-State/Oregon) looks fun and the Rose (Stanford-Wisconsin) looks solid, but the Sugar (Florida-Louisville) is a dud.

The highlight of the whole thing? The unprecedented presence of a MAC team in the BCS -- Northern Illinois -- only partially mitigated by the idea they are playing a fizzling FSU.

(Meanwhile, among the rest, the most notable detail is that Louisiana Tech opted NOT to play in a bowl game -- a bowl game in Louisiana! -- rather than play cross-state rival Louisiana-Monroe.)

Final USA TODAY Sports Coaches Top 25 ballot: Transparency! And so you get to see Vandy's James Franklin pushing Notre Dame down to 4th (approve!) And you get to see Michigan's Brady Hoke pushing Northern Illinois to 25th (behind USC, for whom he was the only coach to rank in the Top 25!) In the end, it is impossible to begrudge the coaches for their various regional biases and odd confederacies and personal sympathies -- the best part is that it is all out there in the open.

Meanwhile, check out my own BlogPoll Top 25 final ballot of the regular season. As I said yesterday: I am fine with Notre Dame vs. Alabama for the national title, but I think ND is not as good -- by resume or eye test -- as three other SEC teams right now. That said: All three of those SEC teams had the chance to win the SEC and get into the national title game, and all fell short.

NBA: Dwight Howard is embarrassed by old Magic mates in Lakers loss to Orlando. The Magic may or may not being going anywhere, but that was pretty close to their NBA Finals Game 7.

(Of course, the only detail that will get coverage will be Kobe telling Pau Gasol to "put his big-boy pants on," and deal with his late-game benching.)

MLB Hot Stove: The best storyline of the day is the rumors swirling that the Nats and Rays might be circling around a deal that would send Tampa workhorse James Shields to the Nats for some of DC's young (controlled) talent.

The most important (but likely overlooked) news of the day is the report that a study of 85 brains of dead football players showed that 68 had signs of CTE.

A Quickie mantra worth repeating: Knowing what we know now -- let alone what we'll know soon -- how in the world would you let your kid play tackle football?

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

12/02 (SEC! SEC!) Quickie

When people joke/boast about the SEC being "grown-[up] football," it is precisely yesterday's game that they are talking about.

I have heard and appreciated that Notre Dame's bona fides include that they are built to resemble a good SEC team -- the difference between "like a good SEC team" and "good SEC team" is what will be on display next month in the national-title game in Miami.

Notre Dame's running game is solid. Alabama's run defense is even more solid. Notre Dame's run defense is stout. Alabama's running game is brutalizing in a way ND has never seen. (And Georgia's running game is just as good.) Brian Kelly is a great coach. Nick Saban is the greatest coach.

I hold the 2008 SEC title game in the highest regard -- it is the greatest moment for Florida football and Tim Tebow -- but yesterday's game was even more exciting, even more of an example of how powerful and punishing the SEC is, a step beyond what everyone else in college football is doing.

I feel (nominally) for Georgia fans, because they had a shot. I don't blame the WR for catching that game-ending pass (it was headed for the end-zone and tipped anyway) as much as I blame UGA coaches for not spiking the ball and settling in for two shots at the game-winning play.

But this is yet another triumph for Nick Saban and Alabama, from the jaw-dropping running game of Lacy and Yeldon to the clutch passing TD to take the lead at the end to the third-quarter two-point conversion that ended up being the difference in the game -- something folks should think about when they are spouting orthodoxies about "taking the points" anytime before the late 4th quarter.

The SEC was on full display. And, as has come to be the norm, the league's 7th straight national title a month from now feels like a post-script.

BCS: I can feel comfortable with the title-game match-up of Alabama and Notre Dame and still not have the Irish ranked in my Top 2 to finish the season. I restore Alabama to No. 1 on the strength of yesterday's win, followed by Florida at No. 2, Texas A&M at No. 3, Georgia at No. 4 and Notre Dame at No. 5.

Other CFB yesterday: Wisconsin, whoa. The Badgers were underrated, but yikes... Kansas State had a season to be proud of (Texas? Not so much)... Why is the ACC faltering? That title game was a pretty good symbol of why... So: Oklahoma vs. Florida in the Sugar Bowl? OK.

RIP Rick Majerus: If I had to pick one person to coach my college roster -- just the coaching part -- I would pick Rick Majerus. For me, he is the ultimate example of someone who coached the hell out of their available talent, always creating winners and foiling opposing coaches. Just imagine if that guy ever had the talent that K has at Duke or Izzo has at Michigan State (or, most relevant, Pitino or Tubby had at Kentucky).

The Jovan Belcher tragedy is almost too horrible to comment on. No one can be inside his head, and so I'm left mourning his murder of his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and the life of their 3-month-old child.

As for the NFL allowing today's Chiefs game to continue -- basically the only part of this story that would-be pundits can comment on -- seems unreasonable, given the circumstances, particularly because neither team is contending for a playoff spot and they could have easily moved the game to Monday without disrupting the schedule. For god's sake: The head coach was standing right next to Belcher when he killed himself.

All that said, enjoy your Sunday.

-- D.S.